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Film review: Mustang


This visually stunning Oscar-nominated film follows five girls fighting for their freedom in a conservative Turkish community after being seen splashing in the sea with a group of boys.

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It’s the last day of school and five orphaned sisters walking home with some boys innocently enough find themselves in the water, uniforms and all, having chicken fights (two people fighting each other while sitting on the shoulders of their teammates – the winner is the team who doesn’t fall down in the water).

Word spreads fast in this remote Turkish village and the girls’ grandmother and uncle aren’t at all happy to hear about the lewd play.

Everything changed in the blink of an eye

The girls become prisoners in their own home, where they must learn how to be good wives and homemakers, until they are one-by-one married off.

This sounds either archaic or dystopian, but it’s real (the incident that forms the basis of the plot is, in fact, taken from director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s life).

There are still places where marriages are arranged and teenagers must submit to them. Places where family members wait outside the honeymoon-door to make sure there is blood on the sheets, and if there isn’t, doctors then confirm whether the newly-wedded wife was a virgin or not. If not, well, there are guns in these places, too.

It’s difficult to not think about Sophia Copola’s The Virgin Suicides when watching Mustang, but where The Virgin Suicides is slow and dreamy, Mustang is fast-flowing and feisty.

Both films find a balance between a sexualised womanhood and a pure adolescence, but I think Ergüven does it best. She does it superbly, in fact.

The best cinematographic moments in the film are those in which the sisters (who are all exceptionally beautiful in their slightly wild and primitive ways) are a pile of bodies, near-naked flesh lying on or twisting with near-naked flesh. But the male gaze isn’t there. Emphasised instead is youth and, especially, sisterly love.

These themes follow the girls in their stabs at finding and achieving real joy and in the tensest of situations as they fight for freedom.

Mustang has won multiple awards and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Academy Awards. Visually, it is stunning film, with the cinematography and editing coming together perfectly. As a social statement, it’s important; the girls’ situation is impossible to not politicise.

Emotionally, where it matters most, Mustang soars.

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