Told through the lens of the youngest of five sisters, Mustang explores the emotional turmoil faced by young women in a small Turkish village. Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven masterfully portrays the struggles that the sisters face within their strict, traditional culture, as they begin to discover and express their sexuality. (EML: 4.5/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson
The film opens at the end of a school year as “Lale” (Günes Sensoy) says a tearful goodbye to her teacher. Rather than take the bus back to their small hometown, Lale and her sisters decide to walk home with a group of their male classmates. On the walk, the girls and boys play in the ocean, even having a few rounds of chicken where the girls sit on the boys’ shoulders. All seems fun and innocent however, when the girls return home, they are met by their angry “Grandmother” (Nihal G. Koldas) who scolds them for their sexual promiscuity.
Following this incident, things begin to change. The three oldest sisters, “Sonay” (Ilayda Akdogan), “Selma” (Tugba Sunguroglu) and “Ece” (Elit Iscan) are forced to take a proof of virginity test to prove to their uncle, “Erol” (Ayberk Pekcan) that they have not been spoiled for marriage. Upon passing the test, the home becomes a prison and the sisters are kept inside day in and day out, receiving daily housewife training.
Throughout this torture, the sisters remain closely bonded, making the best of their situation and rebelling where and when they can. They find solidarity and comfort in one another, using their time together to keep their spirits up even in their isolation from the rest of the world.
The chance for an escape comes in the form of a soccer match that only women are allowed to attend. Even though Lale is the only one interested in the game, all five sisters sneak out hoping to catch the bus taking other local women to the match. However, when they miss the bus, the girls hitch a ride with a delivery man, “Yasin” (Burak Yigit), who helps them catch up with the others.
After the match, things become even stricter in their household and their Grandmother begins to bring in men for the girls to marry. Lale watches as sister after sister is married off, and is forced to recognize that her own future is not far off. Desperate for a different life, Lale longs to escape to Istanbul.
Mustang reveals the hidden plight of modern women trapped within the confines of a strictly traditional culture. Each of the sisters serves a role in exploring the different issues that women can face. From issues of female sexual expressiveness, to the unfairness of virginity testing, to the expectations of feminine domesticity and submission, director Deniz Gamze Ergüven tells a genuine and emotional story that never feels forced or pandering.
Ergüven simultaneously breaks your heart and uplifts your spirit as she lets Lale, the most innocent and naive, navigate through the story, watching her sisters and knowing that she doesn’t want to face the same fate. While many of the plot points could seem melodramatic, Ergüven handles the characters with such a tenderness, that they never feel dishonest. There is no emotional manipulation, just the truest expression of the bond between sisters and the battle for true female empowerment.
Top Photo: Mustang Poster
Middle Photo: Lale performing her “womanly duties,” swatting flies that have entered their home in the summer heat.
Bottom Photo: The girls take a rare trip into town in the back of their uncle’s car.
Photo Credits: Cohen Media Group
As the sisters interact with one another, their focus is not on the men who surround or control them but rather on their bond with one another. Many scenes show the sisters spending time alone in their bedroom, discussing their desires to live their own lives and just goofing off with one another. In one such scene, Lale and her sister pretend to be swimming, using the bed and their blankets as an imaginary pool.