Mustang a stunning debut feature

Mustang, in cinemas nationwide

Full of life even as it depicts lives in lockdown, Mustang is a stunning debut feature by Deniz Gamze Ergüven about five sisters in rural Turkey. Confined to their grandmother’s house, the girls bridle against losing their freedoms in a story grounded in both laughter and tears, and above all in the resilient strength of these girls against soul-deadening strictures.

The supposed sin of Lale, the narrator, and her four sisters — ages extending into the teenage years — was to romp with boys at the beach on the last day of school. Their real offense is being girls with uncontainable independent spirits in a patriarchal culture. The anxious grandmother and uncle who look after the sisters forbid them to leave the house, and turn the place into a “wife factory.” Lale, Nur, Ece, Selma and Sonay keep on pushing, sneaking away to see a soccer game, and boys, and the walls keep on closing in. Virginity tests are administered by a doctor; bars are put on the windows; prospective husbands are entertained over tea.

Ms. Ergüven, who was born in Turkey, brings deft timing and an unapologetic appreciation of beauty to the story, qualities missing from other, schematic portrayals of clashes with traditional mores, Turkish or otherwise. Feather-light camerawork by David Chizallet and Ersin Gok is matched by a nimble screenplay written by Ms. Ergüven with Alice Winocour. 

The ensemble of young actresses is a constantly restless and real presence, the perspective filtered mostly through the cheeky Lale but also through the group as a loving crew.

The lockdown turns into a countdown as the girls are married off and worse, though Ms. Ergüven also shows how marriage can be happy when some choice is involved. People outside the family also emerge as oases of modern attitudes, along with an escape plan. But the girls’ heroism lies in being themselves and making noise, against their immediate society’s wishes.

Full of life even as it depicts lives in lockdown...

Review from Nicolas Rapold, The New York Times

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