Tuesday, November 17, 2015

“Mustang”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a sneak preview at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center for the new drama “Mustang” from Turkey.


When a group of sisters are wrongly punished by their family, can they escape this oppressive treatment before their lives are ruined?


At the end of another school semester, Lale (Günes Sensoy) and her four older sisters are anxiously anticipating their summer vacation – but it is a bittersweet time as well.  Lale has formed a special bond with her teacher Dilek (Bahar Kerimoglu), who’s moving to Istanbul once school is finished.  Nevertheless, Lale and her sisters will look forward to spending the summer living with their grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas) and uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) – the only family they know since their parents died a decade ago. 

Before returning to their house, however, the girls decide to celebrate the onset of summer by visiting a nearby beach with from boys from the school.  While there, they engage in some rather carefree frolicking before bidding them good-bye until school resumes in the fall.  Once home, the young women are stunned to learn they are in trouble for the playful time with the boys and are told that with the neighbors gossiping about them, they have thoroughly scandalized the family.  As a result, they’ll be punished; the sisters are essentially imprisoned in their own house and their only education from now on will be Home Economics so they’ll be ready for their career as a housewife. 

And thus it starts.  They try to marry off Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), the oldest of the girls, but she demands to be paired with a young man with whom she has already established a relationship.  With that plan foiled, the family then arranges a marriage for the next eldest, Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), who’s so distraught she gets drunk at her wedding.  Next is middle-sister Ece (Elit Iscan), who decides to take matters into her own hands to end her suffering.  Seeing that Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu), Lale’s only remaining older sister, will be forced to marry soon, Lale realizes they must escape to Istanbul.  But will the two sisters make it out safely or will Uncle Erol thwart their plans?


Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, who also co-wrote the screenplay, tells a compelling, spellbinding tale with equal amounts of compassion, dignity and respect; its sophistication belies the fact that this is her first feature film – hopefully, she has many more stories like this to tell throughout the rest of her career.  This is more than merely a feminist film, it is a humanist film – it just so happens that this is an account of girls.  Similar accounts of religious oppression could just as well be told about anyone.  Don’t be mistaken – this in no way trivializes the plight of women in socially repressed cultures, a topic that “Mustang” insists on staring right in the eye. 

It is shrewdly subversive that the filmmakers chose to have Lale, the youngest of the sisters, as their savior and protagonist.  Ultimately, she is the one who conceives, plans and executes their attempted escape.  This all makes so much sense.  As the youngest daughter, she sat by in abject horror watching the unpleasant fate her older sisters met, so this motivated her to get out.  Also, being the youngest of the girls, she had the most to lose and the least to look forward to, so she saw that escape was not an option but a necessity. 

There’s much to admire in “Mustang” – directing choices, writing, cinematography and acting.  The five young women who play the sisters are largely non-professionals.  Yet they were able to successfully convince they possessed that unique bond only sisters could have.  Regarding the cinematography, the fact that this was shot near a beach helps considerably to paint a picture of Turkey that is desirable and exotic, despite whatever problems they may have.  Also, the script smartly has payoffs to things that are setup early on in the film.  To sum it up:  See. This.  Movie.

Following the screening, there was a question and answer session with the director and the five young women who played the sisters.  The director said she decided to title the movie “Mustang” because she wanted a simple, one-word title that would express a type of animal which could not be tamed, just as these sisters would fight the subjugation of their family.  Gamze Ergüven claimed that although her film got a wide release in Turkey, the reception was rather mixed:  people either passionately loved it or passionately hated it – there was no middle ground.  Much of the problem came because the topic is controversial; to this day, even the Turkish government wants to micromanage women to the point of telling them how many children they should have and insisting they not laugh in public. 

Mustang (2015) on IMDb

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