Mustang (2015, Turkey, d. Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 97 minutes)
by Robert Joseph Butler
Female writer-director Deniz Gamze Ergüven Oscar nominated feature film debut “Mustang” is a timely and relevant film of female empowerment and desire against the status quo of Turkish patriarchy, where women are still forced by religious rule and traditions to be forced into marriage at a young age. Turkey has regressed culturally, it was once a secular country and one of the first countries that allowed female voting. Now a century later secularism and liberty is being undermined by Islamic rule and old traditions.
In many ways the film echoes Sofia Coppola’s debut feature “The Virgin Suicides” that also explored young women being confined from the outside world. Yet “Mustang” is just as engaging, just as stylized, and every bit as empathetic as Coppola’s debut masterwork. The film explores ones yearning for liberation and desire, and it’s done in such a naturalistic matter. This is a film with a voice that has a lot to say about culture, humanity, desire and of course the young female psyche.
The films setting is in a small Turkish town where a young girl named Lale (Neziche Sensoy), the youngest of her five sisters, narrates the events and becomes a spectator of her sisters rebellion against the oppressive household. Her parents are dead, and their protective uncle and grandmother forbid the girls from leaving the house, they punish them for accompanying boys, and force them into arranged marriages.
One of the remarkable achievements of Mustang is how personal and authentic Ergüven;s perspective is the confinement these young girls endure. She also gives them their own distinct personalities that builds the characters into something very refreshing and true. Their bond together are undeniably moving and natural. Weather it’s the sisters sneaking out of their rooms to hangout with boys, or going to watch a high profile soccer game echoes an authenticity and voice that is rare for modern cinema.
Aesthetically the film merges from the dream to the real, using mostly handhelds and tighter shots to enhance the confinement these women endure within the oppressed scenes, along with some striking stylized compositions in their more desirable scenes, “Mustang” is a visually striking and vibrant film about sibling bonding, female empowerment, and the ongoing fight for ones freedom and liberty.