In modern day Turkey, five sisters walk out of school on the last day of term. Summer upon them, they play on the beach and fool around in the cool water. We are met with a joyous atmosphere, as the girls bask in the freedom that the school holiday promises. The opening scenes of Mustang are almost euphoric as the siblings gallivant in the sea before picking apples from trees. All of a sudden an angry farmer threatens them with a gun and in a split second the atmosphere is broken and the bubble is burst. Local gossip reaches the girls’ Grandmother who, unimpressed by their interactions with young men, sets about training the girls in stereotypical womanhood. Their house becomes a prison and the situation worsens when male suitors and their parents start to turn up at the house. The true beauty of Mustang lies in the visual storytelling. Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven says a lot with metaphor and aesthetic and doesn’t pander to our instinctive need for further explanation. Her début feature, Mustang courageously addresses gender imbalance within its country through an enticing twist on The Virgin Suicides. Not without its problems, Mustang boldly puts forward a particular image of both men and women and challenges child-marriage straight on, through the eyes of the very children and girls it drastically impacts upon.
The youngest of the five girls watches her older sisters enter into marriage and struggles to fathom why such a thing needs to happen. Blending shots of young Lale playing with scenes of wedding ceremonies is powerful and unsettling. The girls talk of sex – their varying degrees of understanding setting them apart from one another. Lale journeys through many emotions as she experiences the dark injustices around her. The siblings’ closeness is expressed through physical contact rather than words. There are many scenes in which the girls lie together, demonstrating their bond and trust for one another. Mustang is beautiful to look at. Close ups mingle with wide shots of the local landscapes and the camera balances stillness and sudden movement along with scenes crisp from natural light and others that are all shadows and hidden faces. Mustang feels like an angry movie but one that warms as it shocks and moves. The girls are all visually striking and each captivates in her own way. Their performances are understated and mysterious, a world brimming with unruly long hair, long stares and heightened passion. There is lots to dissect and admire about Mustang and I suspect it will reward further during second and third viewings. Rich in message and meaning and subtle in the way it chooses to tell its story, Mustang is quite remarkable.
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