|Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven|
|Actors: Güneş Nezihe Şensoy, Doğa Zeynep Doğuşlu, Tuğba Sunguroğlu|
|Country: France/Turkey/Germany, 2015|
|Language: In French with English subtitles|
In a village in northern Turkey, Lale and her four sisters are walking home from school, playing innocently with some boys. The immorality of their play sets off a scandal with unexpected consequences. The family home is progressively transformed into a prison; instruction in homemaking replaces school and marriages start being arranged. The sisters who share a common passion for freedom, find ways of getting around theses constraints.
I was intrigued when I heard about Mustang being part of the Francophonie Festival line-up. The film wasn’t in the French language, but it is partly a French production. More importantly, what it did have was an international appeal and a compelling plot regarding the aspect of sexuality in a conservative society set in the 21st century, for which it garnered a nomination at the Academy Awards under the Best Foreign Film category.
It isn’t a surprise that the film was one of the few contenders in the 2015 Oscars race. The quiet, introspective film not only appealed to the voters in the Academy, but had mass appeal for the general public. The rights of women and girls have long been in the spotlight, but only recently have prominent figures in the media industry such as Emma Watson pledged their support for equal rights and benefits for them.
Aside from the gender disparity in the workplace, the rights of women and girls everywhere have been ignored or violated, particularly in areas of conflict or in developing economies. Women’s sexuality and the sexualised depiction of female figures as young as teenagers in media and elsewhere have long been the topics of hot debate, with good reason.
The themes are subtly interwoven in Mustang, where the story unfolds in a sleepy Turkish village. It is an insightful look into the coming-of-age and subtle oppression of five sisters from youngest Lala’s view. It is surprisingly powerful in the third act, as events culminate into scenes of despair and heartbreak, highlighted by the claustrophobia of being trapped behind literal metal bars within an abode which is meant to be their home.
Though the audience feels the despair the sisters face within their many walls, this claustrophobia is lifted somewhat through the measured use of light and soft sepia tones, from the walls of the house they live in to the sunlight filtering through the bars, interspersed with fleeting landscapes of the sky and the sea.
While the sisters’ plight are in main focus, it is the heart-tugging, empowering yet uplifting, journey of their grandmother which underscores the suffering the women in their society have long gone through. She is without a doubt the most sympathetic character in the film, who has been entrenched in the conservative ways of the society in which she is in. In her own way, she strives to guide and protect her grandchildren against their abusive uncles. Kudos to Nihal G. Koldas for providing such depth upon which the younger actors can play off, giving a much needed gravitas to a script that would otherwise highlight the antics and challenges of youth.
If you’re specifically looking for a film which has a strong cast of women, is directed by a woman, and/or provides a look into some of the challenges facing women in a traditional society, then this is the film for you. Even if you’re not looking for those factors in particular, Mustang is truly a moving production well worth seeing.