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New Release Review - MUSTANG

In rural Turkey, five teenage sisters are taken into the care of their repressive uncle.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Deniz Gamze Erguven

Starring: Gunes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan



At one point the girls escape their uncle's house to attend a football match where all male supporters have been banned for previously causing violence. The image of Lale crowd-surfing over waves of jubilant women, rejoicing at being free of a male influence for a couple of hours, speaks a thousand unsilenced words.



Born in Turkey but subsequently raised in France, filmmaker Deniz Gamze Erguven returns to the country of her birth for this culture/gender clash story, a modern day fairytale in which five orphaned teenage sisters find themselves living with an oppressive uncle as they are gradually sold off into arranged marriages over the course of a sweltering Turkish summer.


Tellingly, the movie opens as the girls have just finished school for the summer; as they bid a teary farewell to a seemingly beloved teacher, we're reminded of how education offers an escape from repression for millions of young women in conservative religious cultures worldwide - it's no coincidence that the first act of groups like the Taliban is often to close down access to education for girls. The sisters head to the beach and indulge in some harmless, platonic fun with a group of teenage boys. When some local busybodies spot this, they twist it into a sexual scenario, and the girls are reprimanded by their grandmother, their guardian since the death of their parents.

Intent on instilling discipline into his nieces, the girl's uncle takes them into his care. One by one, the girls are forced to marry local young men, beginning with the eldest, Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan). The movie is largely told through the viewpoint of the strong-willed and precocious Lale (an outstanding beyond her years turn from Gunes Sensoy), who as the youngest of the five, assumes a sort of 'final girl' role in this scenario as the movie gradually edges its way towards her turn to be wed against her will.


As Islamic nations go, Turkey is relatively liberal and secular, but Mustang suggests its rural areas have a long way to go to catch up with Istanbul, viewed here by the girls as a city of promise, free from repression. That Erguven grew up outside Turkey makes me wonder if this is a similar case to the films of John Michael McDonagh, the Irish-English filmmaker whose portrayal of his parents' homeland as a repressive backwater bears no relation to the Ireland I grew up in. If this is the case, Turks have good reason to be upset with the film, but it's a story that needs to be told at a time when previously liberal Western European countries like Germany and Sweden are currently advising women not to dress or behave in a manner which may be considered offensive to male Muslims.


At one point the girls escape their uncle's house to attend a football match where all male supporters have been banned for previously causing violence. The image of Lale crowd-surfing over waves of jubilant women, rejoicing at being free of a male influence for a couple of hours, speaks a thousand unsilenced words. Sadly, they seem to be increasingly falling on deaf male ears.
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