Directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven
Starring Gunes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu
Released on 11th July 2016
It’s a classic tale, one that goes back centuries. The father with a young daughter who wants to protect her, so locks her up indoors so nobody can ever see her or take her away. But it never occurs to her that she’ll want to leave, to have her freedom – and escape she does. There’s been plenty of variations on the theme – the older husband and the younger wife – but the idea behind it remains the same.
Director Deniz Gamze Erguven has brought it into the 21st century with Mustang, this time about five orphaned girls raised by their uncle and grandmother. They’re all at various stages of their teens, it’s the start of the school holidays and they’re letting their hair down on the beach with some male classmates. But prying eyes misinterpret their innocent games and the rumours, plus the girls’ unrepentant attitude, cause ructions in the family. So their uncle decides it’s time to find husbands for them.
It’s told through the eyes of the youngest and most rebellious, Lale (Gunes Sensoy). Barely into her teens, she witnesses what happens to the three older sisters. Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), whose marriage to the son of family friends is arranged for her, despite the fact that she hardly knows him and clearly doesn’t like him much. Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), the second eldest, who has a secret boyfriend and who is allowed to carry on seeing him as long as he asks for her hand. She’s the only one who marries for love. Ece (Elit Iscan) is set to have much the same future as Selma, quietly rebels by gorging on biscuits and then finds another, more permanent, way out. Which leaves Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu) plus, of course, Lale – and on Nur’s wedding day, the two make their bid for freedom.
The five sisters are presented to us as a single unit – one wild horse of the title, if you like, but with five heads – one that slowly diminishes as varying futures are imposed on them. Even when we’re down to the last two, they’re still always together on what is their big adventure, unlike the other three, who have been separated forcibly from them. And the performances from the five young actresses are all compelling in their different ways, from feisty Lale growing up before our eyes in her clingy shorts and red shoes to Sonay who knows far more than she’s supposed to before marriage and has even found a way to maintain her virginity.
There’s a beguiling, fresh energy about the film, beguiling because lurking underneath the surface are more serious issues like suicide and the strong hint of one of the girls being abused by the uncle. Strangely, though, these are brushed over and contribute very little to a storyline that is essentially all about the repression and sexual exploitation of women in Turkey and how virginity is to be preserved at all costs – or, at least, appear to be. Once the girls have been confined to their home, it becomes what Lale describes as a “marriage factory”, with the girls receiving lessons on cookery, housekeeping and needlework. And all potential instruments of corruption are under lock and key – the telephone, TV and computer.
Shot in natural light, much of it in the searing Turkish sun, the film paints a convincing picture of village attitudes in a vast country that aspires to be part of the 21st century. And the irony of the uncle having reinforced the house so well that he can’t get in when he’s locked out by the two youngest isn’t just delicious: it makes you want to cheer. At heart, Mustang may be an age-old story, but its first time director has brought it bang up to date with in a refreshing, confident style.
Mustang is released today on DVD and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 14th July.