Mustang (2015)

Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Writers: Deniz Gamze Ergüven & Alice Winocour
Cast: Güneş Şenoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, İlayda Akdoğan.

This beautiful foreign film, which can be found streaming on Netflix, was also an Oscar nominee last year for best foreign film, and it is definitely well deserved. If anyone is a fan of either the novel or the movie The Virgin Suicides or even the films The WolfpackThe Magdalene Sisters, or Dogtooth (I highly recommend all of them) then you will no doubt love this movie just as much, if not more. Like the movies (and book) I just mentioned, this film deals with a story about being sheltered and secluded, cut off from a world that is deemed dangerous, scary, or sinful, and how it affects the people being locked in.

Set in an anachronistic rural town in modern day Turkey, Mustang tells the story of five sisters. On the last day of school the sisters walk by the beach with some male classmates, and what starts as simple splashing around turns into a game where the girls are on the shoulders of the boys, trying to knock down their opponents. When they return home, their grandmother is waiting for them, and one by one begins to attack each girl. A neighbor had called her to tell her that the girls had been rubbing their private parts on boys, which brought shame upon the family. The five orphans, under orders of their uncle, are thus slowly more and more held captive under his and his mother’s watchful eye. Their clothes are changed, their technology is taken away, school is no longer an option for them, suddenly they are simply trained in femininity classes so that they can be married off in arranged marriages.

I’ve been to Turkey and I noticed how the country, even though it is one predominantly made up of people who identify as Muslim, was quite liberal and everyone seemed to be free to do as they wish. I did see some women who were covered, but overall these were exceptions and never the rule. This country shows that that is mostly true in the cities (I visited five cities, but didn’t really spend time in the more rural areas), but elsewhere the Turkish culture can become much more restricting when it comes to women, their rights, and their bodies.

Thematically there are very difficult things to watch, and even though the more brutal aspects happen off screen, like abuse and suicide, it doesn’t make it any less impactful or affecting. The power of the movie is that it doesn’t shy away from these points, and in the hands of very capable filmmakers and actors, the story resonates fully.

The movie is very much a female production. The screenwriters are both women, one of whom is also the movie’s director. The film mainly focuses on the five sisters, all other characters are tangential at best. I loved the choice of the director to make any scene in which only the sisters appear alone to take on a quasi ethereal and oneiric look (like the image above), while when outsiders disrupt the bond, suddenly the magical aura fades and dulls. The five young actresses playing the sisters were excellent, especially the youngest one, whose eyes are more expressive than the vast majority of Hollywood actors out there. If she doesn’t become a star, the world is officially unfair. She deserves every accolade coming her way. I was mesmerized.

I cannot recommend this movie enough, as it is near perfect. Even the title indicates the sole way out and hope for these girls: the car sitting in their driveway, a possibility of freedom and an actual life. Will it take them away from their imprisonment? Can the girls drive a stick shift? Does it matter, when this world is set up to keep women subservient and abject? Watch and find out. You will not be sorry, but you may be in tears by the end credits. I was.

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