Director Deniz Gamze Reguven Starring Elit Escan, Tugba Sunguroglu, Ilayda Akdogan, Gunes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu Country of Origin France and Turkey Running Time 1 hour 37 minutes Release Date Friday 13th May
MUSTANG is sublime. It is a sublime piece of storytelling, but more than this, it creates a sublime space.
I feel that so often, cultural artefacts that should be enlightening end up creating bad feeling and conflict. Why have so many progressive programming collectives (Bechdel Test Fest, Human Rights Watch Film Fest and Genesisters, to name a few), as well us regular cinemas, leapt at the chance to put this film on? Because MUSTANG is one of those rare things that is unquestionably authentic and positive, simultaneously. And that’s the real formula for change.
It’s going to be hard to explain how a film where the plot is: five orphaned sisters are kept as prisoners in their uncle’s house in a rural Turkish village, resulting in all manner of heart-breaking incidents including rape, forced marriage and suicide, is a positive one. But Deniz doesn’t lay it on thick. Yes, the story is a dramatic one, but in a surreal, ethereal, magical realist way rather than a Hollywood way. The band of five sisters and the prison break-like premise allow for pleasing visual motifs, but the moments that really shine are the untouched human ones, which writing duo Erguven and Alice Winocour do best bar no one.
What we are really seeing are the growing pains of five sisters whose adult lives are fast beckoning. Despite their growth being obviously natural, every individual impulse they have is perceived as a threat akin in severity to an atomic bomb siren by their uncles and aunties. The generational differences are obvious. The patriarchal influence of tradition clashes horribly with these modern females.
The sister we get closest to, and through whose eyes we see most of the action, is the youngest, Lale, played by Gunes Sensoy (and just wait till you see what she’s got in the way of acting ability). It is apt way for us to experience all of the horror of female repression through the youngest’s eyes, whose perspective from the back cell on death row allows for a real understanding of how increasingly unsustainable this way of control really is. She has the benefit of her older sister’s mistakes. She has time on her side. And if ever there’s hope for a sick society, it’s in the next generation.
Fledgling filmmakers Erguven and Winocour (AUGUSTINE, DOSORDER) are doing something at the moment that no one else has quite got the hang of. They are making films that aren’t self-consciously feminist, but humanist. They centralise the main character’s experiences. They keep us close. They write with honesty, and let the comedy of every day life flow naturally whenever it comes (making the experience of watching their films, apart from all the other things, loads of fun). MUSTANG hasn’t been picked up for wide release because its an attention-grabbing female-driven project. It is very apparent that the duo spent all their time and energy perfecting their characters rather than trying to make a radical statement and ride the wave of controversy.
Ergo, seeing MUSTANG in all its sun-setting beauty, hilarity and heart-breaking glory will not only be a thought provoking experience but an uplifting one, because its films like this that prove no one has to hide behind anything – be it a radical group’s name or embarrassment of their own changing bodies – to be free.