Turkish-French film maker Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s stunning debut feature has already proved a hit on the award’s circuit. This tale of five orphaned sisters growing up on Turkey’s Black Sea coast recently walked away with the Prix Lumière for Best Film and collected four Césars at Friday night’s ceremony including Best First Feature and Best Original Screenplay. And it’s not over yet. The Turkish language Mustang is the French entry for Best Foreign Film at Sunday’s night’s Oscar ceremony. It’s easy to see why Mustang has proved such a big hit. Ergüven’s well-crafted film deals with the subject of arranged marriage with great sensitivity and a welcome lack of political grandstanding. What stays most in the memory is how the lives of these intelligent, vibrant, young women are threatened by an older generation determined to hold on to out-moded traditions. The light, almost frivolous tone of the opening scenes gradually gives way to a darker more sinister mood, but Mustang is ultimately an uplifting story beautifully told with tremendous performances from the five lead actresses,
It’s the beginning of the summer and to celebrate the end of the school year Lale (Güneş Nezihe Şensoy) and her four elder sisters spend the afternoon playing on the beach with some of their male school mates. Their innocent horseplay soon sets off a scandal in the village. To save the family’s reputation and prevent the girls from causing further upset, all five are confined to the house Gone are the modern clothes, cell phones and computers to be replaced with shapeless, dung-coloured robes and days spent learning how to cook and sew. And it’s not long before a male relative Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) begins to arrange marriages for the elder sisters. But the feisty young women are reluctant to give up their freedom and are not easily defeated. Each finds a way to rebel against their inevitable fate.
It’s a shock to see isolated rural Turkey and the portrayal of an existence that sits at odds with modern day life in the West. Erol and his male friends are arrogant, despicable characters drunk on their own sense of importance. But it’s even worse to see how the older women are complicit in the Erol’s plans for the young women. No one, even the girl’s grandmother, will stand up to this brutish man even when she knows his interest in his nieces is not entirely innocent. Comparisons have been made with Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides and even Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock in Ergüven’s depiction of female sexuality. That said Ergüven’s film is in a class of it’s own and well deserving of the awards it has garnered so far.