Director-Deniz Gamze Erguven
Scott’s Review #417
Reviewed June 18, 2016
Mustang is a powerful, relevant, Turkish film released in 2015 and nominated for a slew of awards, including the Best Foreign Language film Oscar. I fully support the nomination as I feel it is a top notch piece. A coming of age story, of sorts, but with no clichés, and a real, true to life feel to it. It tells of various generational beliefs and how these beliefs conflict with other viewpoints and ideas. It also focuses on blossoming life, and sadly, of tragic death.
The story tells of five beautiful young sisters living in a remote village in Turkey, a thousand long miles outside of Istanbul. The girls range in age from eight to eighteen and live with their Grandmother and Uncle Erol-the sisters own parents having died years earlier. The main protagonist of the film is Lale, the youngest of the siblings, who is wise well beyond her years as the plot unfolds. We first meet her as she bids an emotional farewell to her teacher, as she moves to Istanbul. The film is told largely from Lale’s point of view, but each of the girls plays an important role. As the girls play an innocent game in a lake with a group of boys, the game causes a scandal in their “old world” village, and the girls are banished inside the house by their Grandmother and Uncle, who fear their progressive ideas will hurt and shame them.
The obvious main crux of the story is the conflict that develops between different generations and the yearning of the girls to be free and independent, both sexually and intellectually. Their older relatives, and others in the town, prefer the old ways and are prudish.
The oldest daughter’s enter into arranged marriages, while the younger ones fear the same will soon happen to them. The film wisely does not portray these conflicts in a clichéd way or make them over-obvious. Rather, the film feels real, fresh, and like a slice of small town Turkish life. Istanbul is mentioned as a paradise of open minded thinkers and progressive ways, and “the place to be”. The girls fear a life in the doldrums, cooking and cleaning for their men, married off to older men without any love.
It is unclear if the Uncle is molesting any of the girls- the film alludes to it, but the point is not made obvious. What is clear, though, is the girls desire for sexual freedom, experimentation, and love. They are modern thinkers.
The young actress who plays Lale is a marvel. So natural, earnest, and clever, she befriends an older man who teaches her to drive and they embark on a sweet friendship. Much of the film is shown through Lale’s eyes and her reactions to situations. Knowing nothing of sex, she sneaks a peak at a sex education book, and is fascinated by her older sisters sex discussions.
The ending of the film leaves things open to interpretation, and I choose to believe happiness awaits those featured at the conclusion. Mustang is a wonderful film, filled with truth, conflict, great acting, and food for thought. A must see for foreign language film lovers.