Cast includes: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan, Tugba Sunguroglu, Ilayda Akdogan, Nihal G. Koldas (Kuma), Ayberk Pekan (Winter Sleep)
Writer/Director: Deniz Gamse Ergüven (first feature film)
Genre: Drama | Suspense (97 minutes) Turkish with subtitles
Lale narrates… telling us, “One day everything turned to shit.” It’s the last day of school and she’s really sad about their teacher, Dilek, moving to Istanbul. Her older sisters tease her about being so sentimental. The 5 girls decide it’s too nice to take the bus home… they’ll walk. They live in a picturesque, isolated town in Turkey on the Black Sea… beautiful mountains sharply dropping off to a dramatic shoreline. Some of the boys from school walk that way, too. At first they walk, talk and laugh… they try not to get their school uniforms wet as they walk along the beach. But before long their inhibitions break down and the kids are completely soaked, playing rowdy games and arguing about who cheated. When the girls get home, they know their grandmother will be angry, but her anger seems totally out of proportion for the crime of getting their school uniforms wet on the last day of school.
One by one, Grandmother takes the 3 older girls… Sonay, Selma and Ece… behind a closed door for punishment as the others scream and pound on the door. Nur and Lale escape the worst of Grandmother’s wrath because they’re younger, but life is going to change for all the girls. When their uncle Erol gets home, he’s even more enraged than Grandmother. Sonay, Selma and Ece have to go to a doctor to have their virginity confirmed… otherwise, they can never get married. After the incident, the windows and doors are locked, and their home becomes a prison and a “wife factory.” They dress in drab sack-like clothing and learn to cook, clean and serve tea. Grandmother hosts matchmaking teas to marry off the girls… starting with Sonay, the oldest. But no matter how they try to trap the girls, the 5 sisters are a bundle of explosive energy and rebellion. They refuse to be broken. Some of their outbreaks might seem like childish pranks, but over time, we (and they) come to realize what’s at stake. We also see how impossible it is to escape a repressive system that’s centuries old.
With young Lale as the narrator, we find ourselves being pulled deeper and deeper into the physical and psychological confinement the girls are sentenced to. While Turkey is not as repressive toward women and girls as many Muslim countries, secular liberties are not as common outside Istanbul. Writer/director Deniz Gamse Ergüven had a bi-cultural upbringing and is in a unique position to show us the effects of repressive customs on young girls. Mustang is her first feature film, as it is for the 5 main characters. Although there’s definitely a point of view, she does a superb job of keeping it balanced… showing us the complexities of the social order. The film is a French, Turkish and German collaboration and is France’s official entry into the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s powerful and well worth seeing. As the 5 sisters are locked in their house, a popular talk show asks this question: “Where are the girls who are chaste and pure?”
4 popped kernels
While Turkish society exerts heavy social pressures on girls, 5 sisters refuse to be broken
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Art House
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely Varnished Realism
Nutshell: Social oppression of girls in Turkey
Language: True to life