Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Release Year:
Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour
Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu
Screening Date:
  • 15 Nov 2016
  • Categories:

    Brilliant portrayal of five Turkish teenage sisters growing up under strict Islam rule. The sisters share a passion for freedom and find ways of getting around the constraints imposed on them.

    Film Notes

    The first thing we hear is the voice of a young girl, perhaps 10 years old. “It’s like everything changed in the blink of an eye,” she says. “One moment we were fine, then everything turned to s---.” From such a young speaker, the language is a little startling, but it sets the tone what follows; fierce, confident and rebellious. The voice belongs to Lale (Günes Sensoy), the youngest of five Turkish sisters, seen splashing about with a group of boys on a beach as the film begins. When their playful jousting is misinterpreted – casting shame on the family – their home becomes a “wife factory” that they are forbidden from leaving. Any material likely to “pervert” them is confiscated (including, amusingly, a picture-postcard of Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’). Writer/director Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a name to watch out for. The 37-year-old was the only female filmmaker to earn a nod at this year’s Oscars (for Best Foreign Language Film). Mustang, her debut feature, reveals a distinctive and exciting new voice. It’s garnered comparisons with Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides; both involve a group of sisters, kept from the world by overprotective guardians. But in their tone and perspective, the two films couldn’t be less alike. Coppola’s sisters were enigmas, seen through the obsessed gaze of the men they attracted. By contrast, Ergüven brings us into the family as co-conspirators, often squeezing all five girls into the camera’s crowded frame. If the pacing is a little uneven, it’s the result of her commitment to naturalism, showing the sisters’ boredom as they experience it. Mustang isn’t about the girls’ oppression; it’s about their heroic response to it. Though all five young actresses turn in convincing performances, Sensoy is particularly impressive as the indomitable Lale, constantly plotting her escape. Even in its darker moments (death, domestic abuse, a humiliating hymeneal exam), Ergüven contrives to make her subject-matter uplifting. One reason for this is the music. Best known as Nick Cave’s violinist, composer Warren Ellis usually specialises in despondency. His score for Mustang, however, is all sweetness and light, toying with sentimentality without quite falling into it. Like 45 Years (another recent Oscar contender), Mustang has been given a simultaneous release in cinemas and online streaming services. Both films are quiet, character-driven dramas. Neither is well suited to a 10-second elevator pitch. Mustang won’t make much of an impact at the box office, but thanks to a slowly building wave of word-of-mouth support, this On Demand release should find it the audience it deserves.
    Tristram Fane Saunders, Telegraph 20 MAY 2016
    Though set in Turkey, shot in Turkish, and telling a Turkish story about the demonization of female sexuality, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s beautifully mounted debut, “Mustang,” has an unmistakable West European sensibility. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on audience perspective, but while many Turks will find the final salvation distinctly inorganic, few can argue with the director’s talent or that of her exceptionally fine, largely unknown cast of young women. Set in a remote Black Sea village where five sisters are forced to suppress their burgeoning sensuality, “Mustang” will gallop through fruitful festival fields, finding fertile pastures on Euro arthouse screens. School’s just out, and five orphan sisters join their male classmates for a boisterously innocent beachside frolic. A scandalized headscarf-wearing neighbor reports them to their grandma (Nihal Koldas), who accuses them of pleasuring themselves on the shoulders of their boy peers. The perplexed girls, barely aware of their sexual aura, are beaten by their uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) for acting like whores. After subjecting them to virginity tests, Erol locks them in the house and Grandma removes anything likely to be “perverting”: skimpy or clinging clothing, cell phones, computers, makeup. A team of aunties come to teach the sisters domestic skills: as the superfluous voiceover says, “the house became a wife factory.” A brief moment of freedom, when the youngest sister, Lale (Gunes Nezihe Sensoy), engineers their escape to attend a liberating all-female spectator soccer match, results in gates and bars installed over the windows. Local families with marriageable sons are invited over, yet Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), the eldest, refuses to wed anyone other than her b.f., Ekin (Enes Surum). She’s lucky since at least she gets to choose: Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu) is paired with dullard Osman (Erol Afsin), whom she accepts with catatonic resignation. The marriage train is steamrolling ahead, with passive-aggressive Ece (Elit Iscan) next in line, followed by Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu). It’s impossible to watch this presentation of blossoming female sexuality without thinking of “The Virgin Suicides,” minus the male-generated perspective Sofia Coppola employed. While spanning age ranges from prepubescent to nubile, the sisters here share a liberating innocence that’s demonized by a warped understanding of natural development and the misguided belief that it’s possible to cut young women off from an ever-increasing pop-culture connectivity. No adult talks to these girls about sex – Grandma leaves an old paperback primer on Sonay’s bed before her wedding, but Sonay’s way ahead of the game, engaging in anal intercourse with Ekin long before marriage, to avoid puncturing her hymen and failing the all-important blood-on-the-sheets display. Erguven’s script, co-written with French helmer-scripter Alice Winocour, is patently designed to show how conservative morality, literally and figuratively (the latter overdone), imprisons women, equating natural development with sinful urges. Early scenes have a potently idyllic sense of freedom, playing on adult unease of innocent sexuality so acutely captured in Sally Mann’s photographs, and the masses of luxuriant hair each young woman conspicuously sports clearly touches on the traditional Muslim world’s heightened awareness of female tresses. Largely raised in France, Erguven seems to have her eye on the Western market, offering a form of deliverance most Turks with arthouse tastes will find naive at best. There are several first-film missteps, particularly Lale’s voiceover, which insists on telling what’s already obvious onscreen. Revealing Uncle Erol as a child molester, but only of Nur, is both psychologically unlikely (why just one sister?) and unnecessarily heavy-handed. However, the director proves especially skilled with her cast of newcomers (of the thesps playing the sisters, only young Iscan, from “My Only Sunshine,” is a veteran), whose powerful individualism as well as their vibrant bond together are perfect vessels for the script’s message. Visuals are maturely fluent in keeping with current arthouse aesthetics, with a particularly satisfying interplay of energetic and confined camera movements reflecting the situation inside and outside the increasingly prison-like house. Mathilde Van de Moortel’s editing has a dexterous elasticity, building excitement and tension at just the right moments — the soccer scenes feel over-the-top, yet they function as pressure-releasers, and the build-up to the finale, whatever its implausibility, gets the heart racing. Warren Ellis’ music further ties the pic to an identifiable international cinema scene.
    Jay Weissberg, Variety MAY 19, 2015


    What you thought about Mustang

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    66 (63%) 34 (32%) 2 (2%) 1 (1%) 2 (2%)
    Total Number of Responses: 105
    Film Score (0-5): 4.53

    Collated Response Comments

    After the challenge set by the Lobster many of you clearly welcomed “a proper film” and said that it “was the best film so far this season”. This is borne out by the statistics. 138 came along to the screening of Mustang with 76% of you taking the time to complete a comment slip. The aggregate score of 4.53 does indeed make it the most popular film so far this season. Thank you. You complimented this “powerful and wonderful film” which had “superb performances from the girls, especially Lale” and “the lovely soundtrack”. You were equally entranced by “the brilliant direction, photography and editing”. The storyline identified a “fascinating insight into a Turkish family’s life “which you found to be both “riveting and frightening in equal measure” with “the five sisters acting like a true family”. Others said that the film was “a beautiful and sensitively presented picture of a very alien life – and yet with many resonances with our own society” and “tremendous acting from everyone, but the little narrator was amazing. One of the best films so far”. Many of you became immersed in the film to such a degree that the comment, “of course what we really want to know is: what happens in the future adventures of Lale and Nur? Is the evil uncle – whose own demons have brought the situation about, brought to book?” was echoed by many along with “So happy it was a good ending” and “will there be a sequel?”. A couple of you “felt sorry for the grandmothers though”. The girls situation as portrayed in the film had many of you pose questions like “is Turkey ready for the real world!?” and “do we really think that a society with these mores is fit to join Europe?”. It also elicited the comments; “makes me furious as a woman” and “a fabulous and thought provoking film that makes us realise how lucky we are to be women in the West”. One observer remarked that “It can be done. You don’t need all those symbolisms. A very well presented film, full of drama and tension which holds your attention completely”. . For others the film was “moving and very angry making” with a “heart-breaking story” and “a triumph of feminine energy and spirit over the dead hand of male authority and social traditions”. However there were these comments as well; “too long and somewhat disjointed” and “almost simplistic glimpse into the major issues of gender, inequality, rape forced marriage, abuse, exploitation, honour based violence – lacking any depth, detail or emotion. Most poor”.

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