Mustang (Cohen Media Group, PG-13)

Mustang sqMustang is easily one of the year’s best, and perhaps one of the finest films to explore how the eyes of men can confine the lives of women.

 

 

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Young Turkish girl Lale (newcomer Günes Sensoy) lives in a rural town with her four older sisters. It is quickly established that the sisters share a tribal-like closeness and each has a free-spirited nature, though young Lale may be the boldest of the bunch. As school lets out for the summer, the sisters play on the beach and have chicken fights on the shoulders of some local boys. Afterward, the girls venture into an apple orchard. Lale, who looks to be about 11 or 12, humorously shoves a pairs of apples down her shirt in the manner of curious little girls playing as a means of trying to understand their approaching womanhood. The owner of the orchard catches the five girls in their tomfoolery, which causes them to run home in a fit of giggles.

At first, the sisters’ youthful enthusiasm is palpable, but an early voiceover from Lale suggests something terrible is to come: “One day we were fine, and then everything turned to shit,” she forebodes. The girls find themselves in a heap of trouble as they return home. Their innocent games become perverted in the eyes of their conservative grandma (Nihal G. Koldas) and cruel uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan). Uncle Erol worries about the girls being “unsullied,” and the grandmother worries she won’t be able to arrange their marriages. The girls are no longer allowed to leave the house, as their guardians fear they won’t be able to control them. The home soon becomes what Lale describes as a “wife factory,” where they learn the ways of being a suitable woman in by societal standards. Before Lale and her sisters can explore womanhood on their own terms, their paths seem to have been chosen for them from a force outside of their control. As they enter a world of arranged marriages, shapeless dresses, and virginity reports, their spirits begin to fade.

If Mustang sounds reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s poignant debut The Virgin Suicides, it is surely intentional: There are many small nods to Coppola’s storytelling approaches in that film. This is also the first feature for Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. I am not implying that Ergüven film is reliant on the success of Coppola’s. Mustang has a point of view distinctly its own, and it excels on all accounts. It may even be a finer film than the much-celebrated The Virgin Suicides. The camerawork is gentle and soft. You never once feel the camera’s eye sexualize the young women, making it all the more perverse when their community interprets them as so. There are solid performances all around, the most noteworthy being Günes Sensoy’s highly natural take on Lale.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is the script. Mustang takes a strong stance against a patriarchal culture without ever once feeling ham-fisted or preachy. This can be quite a trick for films with such strong ideological statements, but it seems effortless here. Although Mustang stars an exclusively Turkish cast and a largely Turkish production crew, it is a French production and serves as that country’s entry for the 2016 Academy Awards. Mustang is easily one of the year’s best, and perhaps one of the finest films to explore how the eyes of men can confine the lives of women. | Cait Lore

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