director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Text: Michalina Marczak
Mustang tells the touching story of five lively sisters from the Turkish countryside. Lale, Nur, Selma, Ece and Sonay’s lives change dramatically as a consequence of one seemingly innocent decision marking the beginning of school holiday. The sisters’ growing up accelerates rapidly when they see their freedom restricted by their conservative family. Their guardians’ love and understanding is subdued by convention, as their actions are closely followed by the eyes of nosy, bigoted neighbours. We see how much evil the conviction about one’s righteousness can cause in a conservative community where the elders have authoritarian power over children, and where the women’s rights are understood to concern only get married as soon as possible to a man chosen by their family. Despite the family’s paranoia concerning girls’ sexual licentiousness, the sisters vigorously rebel against the new strict rules. We breathlessly follow the dramatic chain of events and get a brilliant picture of intimate relationships between the sisters. As the story unfolds, our laughter changes to tears unexpectedly, and then back to laughter as we follow the dynamic plot. Even though the film was supposed to be a drama, it keeps us in suspense better than many a thriller. The story remains very convincing in spite of the slightly exaggerated heroism of the youngest sister, Lale, through the eyes of whom we watch the events unfold. Just like Lale, we become more and more aware of what is happening before us: we see contemporary Turkey divided into modern cities and conservative villages where arranged marriages continue to be practiced, and where the role of women is reduced to being an obedient housewife.
The film is the debut of Turkish-French Deniz Gamze Ergüven, who both directed the picture and co-wrote the screenplay. It is not only the plot that delights but also the enchanting original soundtrack by Warren Elis, and the vivid cinematography by David Chizallet and Ersin Gok, both of whom manage to capture the beauty and colours of summer on the Turkish Black Sea coast, as well as the electrifying intimacy between the sisters. The cast did a wonderful job, and the characters created by the Turkish actors are strong and authentic. No wonder the film was so widely acclaimed. Apart from receiving a number of prestigious awards, it was nominated for an Oscar for ‘Best Foreign Language Film‘. The film raises a very timely topic, namely the clash between modern lifestyles and conservative traditions. As the discussion about where tradition should step aside to make way for women’s rights continues, this film perfectly illustrates the emotional aspects of growing up in the shadow of dehumanising traditions.