Arts Review, Movies
Deniz Gamze Erguven, director & co-script w/ Alice Winocour
Starring: Gunes Nezihe Sensoy (Lale), Doga Zeynep Doguslu (Nur), Tugba Sunguroglu (Selma), Elit Iscan (Ece), Ilayda Akdogan (Sonay), Nihal Koldas (Grandmother), Ayberk Pekcan (Uncle Erol)
It makes sense that Mustang is the French foreign film entry in the Oscar sweepstakes. Despite being set in a Black Sea village far away from Istanbul, this well made drama feels like a Western European take on life in Turkey.
Mustang opens with its most playful scene, set on the beach, right on the Sea. Five orphaned sisters—whip-smart Lale, the film’s narrator; high-spirited Sonay, the oldest; Ece, the oddest; Selma and Nur, the followers—celebrate the end of school and coming of summer by frolicking in the water with some of the local village boys. Their innocent capers are mistaken for flirting—or worse—by one of the village elders, who reports their transgressions to their grandmother.
When they arrive at home, the girls receive swift and harsh punishment from Grandma and mean-spirited Uncle Erol. They’re virtually imprisoned, stripped of their computers, cell phones and Westernized clothes, and made to feel that they have behaved appallingly. Virginity tests are even conducted at the local hospital, confirming the girls’ assertions that they have done nothing wrong.
After the girls pull off their biggest coup, escaping from the family home to go to a football match, their grandmother flies into action. She starts marrying them off, although all of them are teenagers or younger. Feisty Sonay insists on marrying her boyfriend but Selma is forced into a marriage with an unpleasant, dull village lad. Further attempts at marrying off the increasingly younger sisters lead to violence and, for some, a grandly executed escape.
The poetics in Mustang reside in the free-flowing relationships between the sisters. Rollicking, funny and intimate, the five lead joyful existences until the stringent Puritanism of a backwater society destroys their innocent childhood. The inevitable battle between the forces of a rigid old morality, represented by an ignorant grandmother and perverted Uncle, and the innocent anarchy of the sisters is played out in a set of fascinating but one-sided set pieces.
You know who to root for in every scene, which makes Mustang compulsively watchable but not a subtle art film. Will Mustang win the Oscar for best foreign film? Not in the year of the impressive (and already Golden Globe winning) Son of Saul. It is worth seeing? Yes—but see Son of Saul first.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
Friday’s at 9:07am on Good Day GTA.