Holed up over a long holiday weekend I had the rare luxury of time to catch up with reading and screenings. My primary discovery was the French-Turkish import Mustang, which has made the short-list for this year’s foreign-language Academy Awards. It marks a notable feature debut for director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, who also wrote the screenplay with Alice Winocour…but you don’t need to read the credits to intuit that this story is told from a female perspective. It’s not just a matter of empathy with the five young sisters who dominate the story, but the intimacy Ergüven achieves with her (mostly non-professional) actresses. This is one of those rare movies that doesn’t seem to have been scripted or rehearsed: everything about it seems utterly genuine and spontaneous.
The setting is a seaside community in Northern Turkey. As the school year ends, the five sisters frolic with some boys in the surf, and a disapproving neighbor tells their grandmother that they have been “pleasuring themselves” in an inappropriate manner. Orphaned for ten years, they have been raised in a relaxed manner, but this outrage serves as a call to action for their stern uncle, who makes them virtual prisoners in their home and cuts them off from the outside world. The grandmother begins instructing them in wifely duties and proceeds to marry them off, one by one. Their ferocious and rebellious spirit finds its center in the youngest girl, Lale, who is determined not to fall victim to her older sisters’ fate.
Mustang is a fiery drama laced with moments of humor, and the ironies of a patriarchal society built on a bedrock of hypocrisy. Yet I wouldn’t pigeonhole this as a feminist tract: it’s good, solid storytelling without a wasted moment.
To learn where and when Mustang is playing near you, click HERE.
Later this week I’ll share some thoughts about less high-falutin’ film fare I’ve been watching, and enjoying, at home.