From its opening moments it is made clear that Mustang is heavily influenced by Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. The way it is shot, the delicate voice over all the way through to the themes and basic storyline of a group of girls desperate for more than their controlling guardians will allow them, it is unquestionably seductive.
Nominated for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar Mustang, like its title and protagonists, is often a wild beast, running in directions you might never expect but always doing so at such a canter it is hard to do anything but admire it.
Five orphaned girls living with their grandmother and intimidating uncle are held to rule by the morals of an outdated patriarch. When they are seen by a neighbour playing in the sea with some of their male classmates their world becomes even smaller. Rather than being allowed to enjoy their youth the girls are placed in what they describe as a “wife factory” and before long are being partnered off in arranged marriages. Only youngest sister Lale (Günes Sensoy) seems to have the beligerence to rebel against this oppressive world.
Basing much of Mustang on her own memories of childhood first time writer director Deniz Gamze Ergüven tells this story with a brevity that keeps the characters at the fore and the plot always riveting. At first it’s hard to distinguish the girls apart, one shot in particular sees them all lying on their bedroom floor on top of each other, limbs entangled, one entity with many voices.
Ergüven’s lens wanders over these girls, drinking them in not in a perverse but genuinely ethereal manner. It raises them above the control of the men around them. When the girls are together, away from the negative influences in their lives, the film lets you bask in their company and sibling ways. But when reality kicks in, which it does all too often, there is a sense of that childhood nostalgia vanishing.
The women, at least the older generation, are portrayed as subservient to the men in their lives. And yet, in fleeting moments, they are the protectors of the young girls. One scene showing the girls’ aunt willing to sabotage the entire village’s power in order to keep their secret. Meanwhile the men, the controlling patriarch of this society are shown to be gun-toting, football hooligans hell-bent on controlling the girls with a set of rules that seem irrelevant to themselves. Ergüven refuses to let it come a lecture or an essay on sexism, it doesn’t need to be when it is this keenly observed.
Towards the end the narrative feels like it is running out of steam. A slightly forced climax feels implausible in the overall scheme of things but the final moments are desperately heartfelt, enough so as to easily forgive the previous sins, even more so as Warren Ellis’ stunning score soars you to breathtaking highs.
Mustang is a gorgeous and important film. Less a loss of innocence than a theft of youth it perfectly captures a zeitgeist topic in a country that is far behind even allowing women to engage in the debate.