It was the last time we were all together

Mustang ( 2015 )

  |   April 9, 2020

Deniz Gamze Ergüven's directorial debut, Mustang, competed in the Director's Fortnight section at the 2015 Cannes Festival and picked up the Europa Cinemas Label Award, before being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. It tells the story of five orphaned sisters growing up in a conservative Anatolian village in Turkey, where they are cared for by their grandmother and uncle. Their story is narrated by Lale, the youngest, who is the window through which we see their world. 

The film opens with the girls' last day of school. A frolic on the beach with some boys in the sunshine proves costly. To save them from perceived shame, the girls have their freedom curtailed, are dressed in drab clothes, and are deprived of anything that might corrupt them. Things get worse once they are discovered secretly attending a football match. Though the women of the house go to great lengths to hide it from the men, it's decided that it is time for them to marry. They are taught to make bread and perform other household duties, with Lale remarking that the house has become a wife factory. Little by little each girl disappears before their time, through marriage, cruelty, or both.

The household is a sad one, marked by cruelty and oppression, and the few visitors to the house bring no warmth, only requests for marriage. The frequent wedding preparations resemble more funerals than joyous occasions. The only thing that matters in this society is shame, and fear of it overrides everything. At one point, Selma, the second eldest, is dragged to hospital by her new husband's family, gun-toting, to determine if she is still a  virgin.

Time is always ticking, and for the girls, freedom lasts only until they come of age. But for Lale, it is simple, if you don't want to be married, run away, get in a car and go. She knows that the cycle can't continue, and she makes her last stand on Nur, the second youngest's wedding day. They barricade themselves inside the house and refuse to go along with it any longer. The question is if they can find a way to escape it all, and become free.

Mustang is that rare movie that, while drenched in sadness throughout, is ultimately uplifting. An understated and poignant score tears through the narrative and lays the characters and their circumstances bare. It is a harsh critique of conservative rural Turkish life, which has divided opinions there. It presents a cruel, unjust patriarchal society that tries to crush the young girls as it has crushed the elder women of their family. But ultimately it is a tender, powerful movie that celebrates the strength of these women, and that lingers long after the credits have left the screen.