Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Starring: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan, Nihal G. Koldas, Ayberk Pekcan Film Review by Colin Lomas
Modern day Turkey and orphaned sisters Lale (Sensoy), Nur (Doguslu), Selma (Sunguroglu), Eca (Iscan) and Sonay (Akdogan) are playfully flirting with some local boys on the beach; climbing on shoulders, play fighting and splashing water at each other. When they return home they realise they have been spotted and reported to their grandmother (Koldas) by a neighbour who considers their behaviour unacceptable and whore-like. Their grandmother screams and drags each into a room for a beating. Their uncle Erol (Pekcan) finds out and bans them from leaving the house again, barring up the windows and deciding that the best course of events to stop the girls becoming a disgrace is to start marrying them off immediately. The house then becomes, as Lale describes it, ‘a wife factory’. The world has seen its fair share of coming of age movies, yet not so many involving girls, and certainly very few that don’t eventually turn into bog standard romantic slush an hour in. This is what really stands Mustang apart; that a group of sisters similar in age yet aeons apart in regard to supposed responsibilities are given time to exhibit the confusing challenge of teenage transition, especially in the wake of hard-line religious guardians. Although there are moments of great comedy, Mustang never sets out to be anything other than a damning insight into the archaic structures of arranged marriage and its effect on a tightly knit playful bunch of loving sisters torn from each other at such a young age.
One of Mustang’s greatest tricks is that without trying too hard it is genuinely anger-inducing. The way that the enforced obligations of womanhood and wifedom are suddenly hammered down on what are essentially children is heart breaking at times. The discussions around the family table regarding marriage proposals are embarrassingly real, at no point is the girl allowed a single word of approval or otherwise. The childish dreams and trivial attempts at avoiding the inevitable bring about a sadness yet also embed a steadfast craving to see them succeed. There is not a single moment of sluggishness here; the girls rushed off to the hospital for a virginity test after playing on the beach, the older women’s carefully veiled empathy yet utter conviction of tradition, the way the girls are dressed as sacrificial dolls when pre-determined husbands first appear. It is all beautifully arranged and wonderfully acted. All of the girls put in absolutely superb performances and at no stage is their lack of experience noticeable. Their kinship and spirit as a group of sisters is addictive and constantly pulls the viewer into the playful and mischievous coven. Pekcan is excellent as the angry traditionalist struggling with the commanded freedom of modern girls, his character brings sincere vitriol from the audience, a fine accolade for any actor. Mustang is a wonderful movie and it’s a crying shame it will only grace a handful of cinemas across the UK. Many a film has been described as an emotional roller-coaster over the years yet Mustang is about as close to achieving that as possible without slipping into Forrest Gump Hollywood mawkishness. One of the better movies of the year so far.