Film Review: Mustang

Directed by: Deniz Gamze Erguven

Written by: Deniz Gamze Erguven and Alice Winocour

Starring: Gunes Sensoy, Doga Zeyney Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan, Nihal G. Koldas, Ayberk Pekcan, Bahar Kerimoglu and Burak Yigit

‘She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and she will protect her chasteness’, a comment made by the former Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey during a speech on ‘moral corruption’ in 2014. When watching this Turkish coming-of-age drama one gets the feeling that it is an artistic rebellion against these misogynistic views. Mustang begins like so many Americanised coming-of-age dramas, on the last day of school. Six sisters, ages ranging from early to late teens, celebrate their freedom by diving into the ocean (fully clothed) with boys of similar age.

This innocent expression of budding sexuality is witnessed by a local busy-body and soon becomes a scandal in the small Turkish village. The act sees the sisters held prisoner in their own home. An allegory for female sexual oppression in modern day Turkey is readily apparent. The more the sisters rebel the more extreme the exclusion from society by their Grandmother (Koldas) and Uncle (Pekcan) becomes. Their vibrancy is slowly chipped away. Stripped of their individuality they are made to wear plain ‘shit coloured’ clothes.

Mustang points at the generational gap between the female villagers. The young, wild and free is juxtaposed with middle-aged women conditioned by a misogynist society. The film is seen very much through the eyes of the youngest sister Lale (Sensoy) who is the most rebellious. Her innocence and ungovernable nature sets her free from conservative views. However, she slowly sees her older sisters get swallowed up by their culture and the system of arranged marriages. As the audience, we witness her trying to get her head around all of it, which makes the action even more poignant.

There is a brilliant sequence of liberation when the sisters escape to Istanbul to watch a soccer game in an all-female crowd. Men have been banned from the stadium on account of hooliganism. The sequence of joy and excitement is reminiscent of Jafar Panahi’s Offside (2006) about female oppression in modern day Iran. Offside, like all of Panahi’s films, is banned in Iran. Mustang is edited by Panahi. The sister’s night out comes at a price as their home quickly transforms into something more resembling a prison.

The film has all the hallmarks of a passion project for first-time director Erguven. Cinematographers Rami Agami and Mahmound Kalari lovingly shoot the sisters, evoking a heart-warming togetherness. Their bodies are usually basking in the Turkish sunlight, angels and nymphets. Comparisons can be made with Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999) both aesthetically and thematically. Coppola framed her sisters in the same way, allowing both films to represent a condemnation of conservative views and the repression of young women in society. Like The Virgin Suicides, Mustang captures the farce of male hysteria surrounding female sexual awakening.

Mustang is far from perfect. The dialogue in the film can be heavy-handed where subtly should be key. Erguven at times resorts to trying to spoon feed us. The films antagonists could also be developed to create a further sense of realism surrounding the story. However, Mustang is thematically and politically relevant. World cinema has an exciting new female voice.

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