Film review – Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 2016)

First-time director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang is an astonishing debut. Dealing directly with women’s rights and the oppression of women in Islamic states, it’s bound to court controversy in many areas of the world, not least the country in which it’s set: Turkey.

The story revolves around five sisters. The central character Lale (Güneş Şensoy) is the youngest of the five and serves as the innocent viewpoint through which the story is told, a storytelling method reminiscent of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird. Her sisters -Nur (Doğa Doğuşlu), Ece (Elit İşcan), Selma (Tuğba Sunguroğlu) and Sonay (İlayda Akdoğan as Sonay – are living with their traditionalist uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) and fearful grandmother (Nihal Koldaş). After an incident at a beach that Erol deems to be too risqué, the five are effectively held on house arrest, taught to be “proper wives” and must wait their turn until a suitor is found.

The premise of the plot is one that brings out dormant anger towards the premise of pre-arranged marriages. The idea of this still happening to so many women in the modern world is an alien concept to those outside the most conservative of countries. Whilst it is known that this happens, Mustang manages to drive home a powerful message by focusing on just one tight family unit, in this case a close-knit group of girls who will likely never see each other again once they have been paired off. Perhaps it’s easier to pretend it doesn’t happen, or perhaps it’s easier to forget on a day-to-day basis as it is so uncommon in the Western world. All this just results in Mustang being a more shocking film.

It is hard to watch the storyline unfold without being reminded of Sophia Coppola’s 1999 indie flick ‘The Virgin Suicides’. Both films deal directly with the psychological effects of a group of five attractive teenage sisters being held under house arrest at the behest of their overbearing parents/guardians. I can’t see a situation where Ergüven hasn’t been influenced on some level by that film, but the repositioning of this basic plot makes it different enough to not dismiss its achievements.

Güneş Şensoy is a revelation in the lead role, playing perfectly the inquisitive innocence that the character demands. At such a young age and this being her debut performance, she is certainly one to watch in the future.

Mustang is a powerful film deserving of he widest of audiences. It’s at times heartbreaking, but there can never be enough attention shone on such a pressing humanitarian matter.

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