Mustang A tender portrayal of a harsh reality

Sometimes a film comes along at the right time, and speaks to you in a way that all the harrowing headlines and social media noise doesn’t.

Right from its opening frames, Mustang laid out its heart and placed you squarely in the middle of this raggle-taggle group of gorgeously mischievious sisters, doing not a lot except running free and trying to cool down in the stifling heat of this village in rural Turkey. You fall in love with them – and the film - immediately, because Ergüven wraps you up in the tangle of warm limbs and silly giggles that you remember in a completely disarming and poignant way. She makes you let your guard down.

“One moment everything was OK…and then it turned to sh*t”

Pretty soon the tender tableaux are compromised by the revelation that these are not girls living according to western rules of behaviour, though they obsess with hair and fashion, boys and TV as much as the next girl. The impending dread is there right from the start, and you know with terrifying dread that it’s only a matter of time before the halcyon days of youth will come to an end.

Though the story is harrowing, and the theme of arranged marriages an uneasy one for those of us able to make our own choices, Ergüven treats the theme with as much respect and colour as her girls. In the same way as the sisters aren’t all sugar, arranged marriages aren’t all unsuccessful or unfulfilling. The sisters can be mean to each other, crude and reckless. The camera lovingly lingers on traditional food being prepared, the dressing of the bride, the celebrations. But it also shows what joy Western culture brings to the girls. We beam along with the girls when they escape to watch a football match, enjoying the excitement of being in a crowd and a shared experience, entranced by the euphoric beats and lights in the stadium.

Although the central theme is the way the sisters as individuals cope with their fate as dictated by their culture and informs us about the nuanced reality of arranged marriages, this film gave me much more than a perspective on another culture. I never had a sister, but as the mother of young girls I caught a glimpse of the joy and frustration that provides through Mustang. I remembered being a girl, got a bit nostalgic about kicking around with my besties, and I arranged to kick about with them some more.

We all have a lot of information being bombarded at us from every angle these days, teenage girls not least with garish pink branding and a steady stream of mixed messages. 

The message in this film was clear – your girlhood is something to be cherished.

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