Film - Mustang

Tony Cross discovers a Turkish delight as he watches Mustang...

If you read some of Turkish President Erdogan’s comments on women and motherhood recently you shouldn’t be surprised that a film like ‘Mustang’ emerges from Turkey (although it is a Franco-Turkish co-production to be fair.) I suspect President Erdogan won’t like the film very much, which I say is a good thing.

The film is set in a Turkish village where five sisters, whose parents have died, are being raised by their grandmother. It begins, as Lale – the youngest child – says, on the day everything went to shit. Leaving school, the sisters go down to the beach where they splash about in the water with some boys from their school. This is witnessed by one of their neighbours who tells their grandmother and it is spun into some kind of sexual looseness. Their uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) – who will be the real villain of this story – is disgusted and the girls are effectively imprisoned in their own home and become part of a training programme to raise wives. This after they are forced to undergo a virginity test.

They escape once to go to an all-female football match, which provides one of the films few moments of comedy, as they are spotted on television by their aunt and she dashes off to prevent the men spotting them in the crowd. It’s a lovely moment.

However gradually the sisters are married off. Sonay wants to marry the boy she loves so Selma is married off to an almost stranger and Sonay gets to marry her lover. There’s a joint ceremony and then off they go to consummate their marriages, which leads to Selma being forced – again – to have her virginity tested. This time by her in-laws.

Next up for marriage is Ece, who we realise by now is being abused by Erol. It is Ece’s fate that will be the darkest in the film. Now there are only two sisters left – Nur & Lale – but even though Nur is young she’s set up to be married. However, it Nur’s wedding day when the two sisters finally rebel and the prison that the house has become becomes protection for the sisters from their Uncle’s rage.

It’s a marvellous film. The performances from the actresses playing the sisters are great, particularly Elit İşcan as Ece and Tuğba Sunguroğlu as Selma but the star of the film really is Güneş Şensoy as the youngest child Lale. The one who seems most in need of escape and who is forced to watch the fate of her sisters. She’s the one with the plan. It is Lale that leads the final rebellion and escape. I don’t know how old Sensoy is but it’s a performance of spectacular maturity. You can’t help but get behind Lale and it is her fate that I found myself fearing for most, especially after Ece’s fate.

The thing the film does well though is to show the strength of the girls in the face of their fate. Selma, after all, gets to choose her husband and, in her way, Ece gets to make her own choice, even if it is a terrible one. It also shows that the men aren’t always happy either and that it is a conservative society that is the villain – although Erol becomes increasingly unpleasant as the film goes on and his humiliation would be something you’d cheer.

In the end though this is a film well-worth seeing and a story well-worth telling. It is directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, and is her first film as a director, which makes it a pretty impressive debut. If this seems overly serious the film does have moments of lightness and almost every character has redeeming features, except Erol. It’s a prison break wrapped up in a story about family and tradition. If you aren’t moved by it then I’d be disappointed. That’s without the brilliant performance from Güneş Şensoy who, above all, makes this film the wonder that it is.

The sad thing is that not enough people will see this film because it’ll get limited distribution and it’s got subtitles. That’s a shame. If you can find it in a local art-house cinema go see it. Otherwise wait for the DVD.

Image - IMDb

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