MUSTANG (France | Germany | Turkey | Qatar/15A/97mins)
Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. Starring: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan and Ilayda Akdogan.
THE PLOT: In a small Turkish village, sisters Lale (Günes Sensoy), Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu), Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), Ece (Elit Iscan) and Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan) find themselves kept under tight watch after they are seen playing with young boys their own age. As time passes and the older sisters are married off, the house becomes more and more claustrophobic, and the girls resort to desperate measures to gain their freedom.
THE VERDICT: Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year at this year’s Oscars, ‘Mustang’ is the story of past meeting present, traditional values being questioned and, most of all, five young women’s quest for freedom.
The five actresses who play the young sisters, Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan and Ilayda Akdogan have an easy chemistry together, and it would be easy to believe that these young girls have known one another their entire lives. There is much more going on underneath the surface, and these actresses all manage to convey a feeling of unease, as well as a desire to be free and live as they wish. Nihal G. Koldas plays the girls’ grandmother, and swings between over protection to fear and intimidation, and Ayberk Pekcan plays the controlling male presence in the house, Erol.
Deniz Gamze Ergüven and Alice Winocour’s screenplay focuses on the story as told by one of the youngest sisters in the family. There is always a hint that more is going on in the house and simple control, but much of this is left to the audience to discover, rather than being explicitly thrown onto the screen. As well as being a story of abuse and intimidation, Mustang is a story of adolescence, discovery, first love and solidarity, with scenes of sunlight and sunbathing juxtaposed against the bars on the windows and outdoor areas of the house.
Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven makes her first feature length film one that does not seem to have much going on in terms of pace, but once events in the film really begin to take shape, the film gathers speed and strength. The performances feel natural and the rare bursts of comedy and happiness balance out the creeping feeling of dread throughout the film.
In all, ‘Mustang’ is a dark and extreme coming of age story, marked with tragedy and loss. The performances in the film anchor the slightly meandering and loose story, and the tone of the film is balanced between despair and happiness, with the five central actresses supporting one another through the story.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    Oscar-nominated Turkish drama Mustang marks the debut of Deniz Gamze Erguven – and it’s a hugely promising one at that. For this is a film that immediately grabs you by the heartstrings and won’t let go.

    In modern Northern Turkey, the traditional way of life still continues in small towns. Women and young girls are expected to follow traditional gender roles and not go beyond them. This is where we meet Lale (Gunes Sensoy), the youngest of five sisters who are all growing up. Her older teenage sisters are Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu), Ece (Elit Iscan) and Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu). Walking home from school, the sisters innocently play with the local boys. Their behaviour becomes scandalous to the small-minded locals, so their aunt and uncle confine them to the house for the future. Barred in, they have to dress dowdy and take up needlework. The bonds between these sisters are so strong that they try to stay together. But all of that falls apart when their aunt sees the solution to the problem: make them respectable by quickly marrying them off through arranged marriages. As Lale watches the disintegration of her family unit through the actions of her guardians, she makes a plan to escape to Istanbul…

    Mustang is something special. That’s very obvious from early on in the film. It beautifully captures the bonds of sisterhood, in much the same way as Sofia Coppola did with The Virgin Suicides. That film has been referenced in connection with Mustang, but Mustang is something different. It makes a clear statement about the destructive dangers of traditional values and gender roles, even in secular Turkey.

    This film could easily be set in 1915 rather than 2015, such is the necessity to marry off young girls to assure their ‘proper’ place in society. What really impresses though is the way the story shows how external forces can break the bonds that seem so strong. Told from Lale’s viewpoint, we watch in despair as they go their separate ways never to be together again. They barely even have time to grow up, let alone accept their burgeoning womanhood. There’s such a strong sense of impending tragedy that you almost want to reach into the screen and help them escape their increasingly desperate situation.

    From a script co-written with Disorder’s Alice Winocour, Erguven’s elicits some wonderfully naturalistic performances from her young cast. They seem less like actors performing roles and more like real sisters who have natural chemistry together. The few fleeting moments we get to experience their bids for freedom feel joyous and liberating, such as when they lock themselves inside the house before a forced, arranged wedding. Even the bars over the windows come to protect them from what is about to transpire. There’s only one minor complaint – that the film moves a little too quickly through events and barely stops in time for us to take in and emotionally absorb some tragic moments. That might be down to a sense of urgency on Erguven’s part. However, there’s a sense of hopefulness about the story which makes this powerful, poignant filmmaking with a very clear voice. Undoubtedly, this is a must-see film. ****