Mustang – Film Review

mustangLovely movie by a first-time Turkish-French director that takes a look at adolescence, the suppression of female sexuality and the arranged marriage in modern Turkey, a bit like a darker Pride & Prejudice or a more optimistic Virgin Suicides.

The movie starts off in a small village on the Black Sea coast, on a last day of school term, as five young sisters say tearful farewells to their teacher who is moving back to Istanbul. Then, to celebrate the holidays, they frolic in the sea with some boys from their school. Unfortunately, their innocent games scandalise an elderly neighbour who tattles on the girls to their grandmother and uncle and makes them out to be a bunch of shameless hussies.

This incident sets off a chain reaction as the girls’ phones, make-up, or any other “corrupting” material is confiscated, the two eldest girls are taken to the doctor to certify their virginity, and the sisters become virtual prisoners in their home, bars on the windows and all, while their guardians hastily arrange to marry them off one by one. The eldest sister Sonay is lucky enough to get a reluctant approval to marry her boyfriend, but Selma, the second sister, is not as fortunate, while the third sister’s story, hinted at rather than made explicit, is the darkest in the film.

While this scenario is fairly depressing, the movie is anything but, with the natural fresh performances and the characters whose youthful exuberance and tight sisterly bond endures in the face of their ordeal. There are many tender scenes of the sisters goofing around and laughing together, all loose limbs and long hair, and moments of pure joy such as when the girls manage to escape the house in order to attend a football match with a women-only crowd (I wondered if this was for real, but apparently yes, banning men from the stadiums was Turkey’s extreme solution for tackling crowd violence). The young girl who plays Lale, the youngest and most rebellious sister, is the standout, with a watchful intensity and determination that eventually leads to an uplifting if not entirely plausible finale.

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