Mustang a moving story of sisterhood
Alive and uplifting, yet laced with injustice and entrapment, Mustang is a moving story of sisterhood and female sexuality. Stirring and stifling in equal measure, the film depicts five sisters’ struggle with a traditional society that’s seriously out of kilter with their free-spirited nature.
Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur and Lale live in a village in rural Turkey with their patriarchal uncle Erol and submissive grandmother. They share a deep bond and we’re treated to gorgeous glimpses of their life together, free from the oppressive attitudes of the elders in their conservative community. The girls enjoy a triumphant end to the school term with a splash in the sea along with male classmates, later cheekily stealing apples from a neighbour’s garden.
Returning home giggling and gregarious, the sisters are scolded by their grandmother who has learnt of their supposedly sinful behaviour. Only it’s not the theft of the fruit she refers to, but how they have associated with the opposite sex. Subsequently subjected to virginity tests to prove their purity, the girls quickly learn their life as they know it has come to an abrupt end.
Subsequently subjected to virginity tests to prove their purity, the girls quickly learn their life as they know it has come to an abrupt end.
Despite being forbidden to leave the house, the sisters protest against this imprisonment and defiantly decide to sneak out to a football match in Istanbul. Missing the bus from the village, they hitch a lift to the match. In what has to be the most euphoric scene of the film, the five sisters ride in the back of the open truck together, celebratory and alive; exhilarated by their reclaimed freedom, if only for one night. Meanwhile back at home, their grandmother catches a glimpse of the girls at the match on the TV and frantically embarks on a mission to prevent their uncle from finding out. We see her manically hurling rocks at the nearest electricity pole with excellent comic effect.
Shortly afterwards, the barriers limiting the girls’ young lives literally build up around them; the garden walls are raised, bars are added to windows and gates; constructed in parallel with the societal obstacles they increasingly face. With their home transformed into a “wife factory”, the sisters’ lives become dominated by the insular attitudes of their family, with arranged marriage now a key focus for their future. The girls begin to be picked off one by one, starting with the eldest pair, Sonay and Selma.
Much of this descent into domestic entrapment is documented by Lale, the youngest sibling, who is portrayed as so sassy and spirited you can’t help but love her. Lale’s character comes across as quite complex since she’s mischievous and immature, but also the most determined and courageous of the girls. The other sisters are all given a voice, however it is Lale who seeks liberation in Istanbul, and ultimately takes action to achieve this.
Mustang illustrates the sister's relationship wonderfully, using delicate camerawork and intimate screenplay, in addition to an expressive and emotional sound track.
For me, it’s interesting how the apparent clash of cultures in Mustang occurs in the rural village, where as Istanbul is presented as progressive and liberal. As a city with a history of ancient empires, labyrinth like bazaars and magnificent mosques, juxtaposed with an undeniable Westernisation seen in the trendy late night bars and massive shopping malls, clearly it’s this diversity that aids tolerance and freedom. In my experience of Istanbul, the people were open, warm, funny, considerate and above all liberal. Much like the five sisters depicted in this bittersweet story.
The girls’ excitement, independence and the exploration of their sensuality leave you nostalgic for your own youth. Granted I haven’t confronted half the challenges these characters meet, and likewise I’ve never even had a sister, but the picture of friendship, unity and adventure that they paint is universal. Above all, they’re real. Mustang illustrates their relationship wonderfully using delicate camerawork and intimate screenplay, in addition to an expressive and emotional sound track.
The film is filled to bursting with laughter and tears, love and loss. Mustang’s five heroines empower their audience with their resilience, coupled with their fierce refusal to give up their right to freedom. In Mustang the strength of the sisterhood says something that’s impossible to ignore.
directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Set against the stunning backdrop of small town Turkey, five fiercely independent sisters fight against outdated social traditions and family pressures. Impassioned and affecting, Oscar‐ nominated Mustang is bold and powerful.