Mustang : A Film Review


Director co-writer. Deniz-gamze-Erguven. Co-writer Alice Wincour. Cast. Güneş Şensoy as Lale, Doğa Doğuşlu as Nur, Elit İşcan as Ece, Tuğba Sunguroğlu as Selma, İlayda Akdoğan as Sonay, Nihal Koldaş as the grandmother, Ayberk Pekcan as Erol, Erol Afşin as Osman. Duration  97 mins. France/Germany/Turkey. subtitled. Cert 15.

Portrait of tyranny 

There are tragic notes and despairingly sad moments in this Turkish first time Director piece on the semi-recognised crossroads of religion and secular society in this trouble torn conflicted nation.  It is a modern identity struggle between not necessarily ages but the soul and spiritual perceptions abroad and especially as focused on here among the young women, bearers of the future. A horror movie on patriarchy some have said.  It certainly is and the means of its delivery are coached in surreal accentuated prison conditions with a large number of elderly relatives; the girls have lost their parents and are cared for by Uncle Erol and his mother along with a plethora of increasingly adverse group of fundamentalist Muslims tied to inequality and a male dominated society inside a home which turns into a lock down basically as gates and grilles are added.

Stylised Story Direction

Far from being a tirade on the conflicts of a society riven with problems at state level and local traditions this film is carefully constructed in an almost hyper reality form.  The heightened colourist painterly direction is one clue. The is of humour and small elements of narration with portrayal of ordinary life which when the subject of marriage comes up becomes a tableau of choregraphed acting.  Not by the ‘Actors’ but the people they portray act the roles passed down to them in a ritualized form as a domestic aggrement of arranged marriage is formed.

The girls all five have an beautiful existence next to the Black Sea from the youngest, Lale through Nur, Ece, Selma, and Sonay the eldest whose joint meeting school end in celebration by dive bombing in the sea with boy classmates as innocent fun becomes the reason of their future ‘encarceration’ after word gets out and this willfulness is interpreted as sexual expression.  Virginity is a central part of their indentity in this society where marriage is contrived as firstly the woman being ‘intact’ as they describe it and then in a position to marry according to their parents or guardians wishes to whoever they choose.  Uncle Erol and his mother are tyrants with a grip and formidibale power.

 Beware the Clooney he’s married.
Football supporters miss the bus.

Beach Forbidden

The episode on the beach becomes the fulcrum on which the film shows us the extent of the power of tradition and Uncle Erol whose very large home and farm/small holding provide all with a handsome living, is troubled.  Sometimes he is forced to adopt the role of Patriach and leader of the household and then at other times sees the sisters as a loving Uncle wishing them the freedoms and absence of anxiety they have suffered.  The state and Church have imbedded a deep and entrenched obedience in the elders while the world changes all around them.  They do not get to spend their summer on the beach ruin the woods or around the hillsides and adjoining village.

Hyper real and Counter Sexualising

The girls have in contrast the modern appearance of any well of child in a place where freedoms are open and unquestioned. This tears the generations apart and the business of matchmaking is abusive and despicable adherence to oppressive practices. The filmaker expresses their sexuality by their differences growing.  Where they lie together and the camera constructs a painting they have all different knees arms legs toes which the cinematographer singles out as defining them as different characters each not sexual objects of the Turkish severe patriachical male object driven vision but as girls as essentially women of growing awareness containing very different inner dilemmas within the context of mutual identity.  It is neither overtly Feminist or remotely Sexualised.  It is a tribute to womanhood understood by the filmaker and is the internal hyper reality the film delivers.

Present day Hypocricy Democracy

In Turkey there are more journalists in Jail than in Russia. Human Rights violations are a daily occurrence and a decades slip in advancing Human Rights in response to the EU backward slid is atrocious and Turkey has suppressed the rights of women and young women’s d monstrations. The middle classes are now facing the lack of visa free travel which calls the Parliment to seek visa free travel.  The refugee crisis is becoming a tool to attack the EU while at the same time not providing a solution to the movement of people.  Greece might be relieved and having to save fewer lives from the sea.

The Story Envelope

As most of the above deals with the construction of the locality of the rural community which is beset with modern ideals of equality and as sought and obtained to a large degree in other parts of fringing Europe the story has to tell the experiences felt by five sisters in the heart of the conflicts they find themselves growing up with.  The story goes through the enforced marriage of two of them, the rebellion it brings within them all and a deeply tragic, heart reaching pivotal moment which is brought to bang home the effect such a society or parts of it inflict upon those who follow the strictures consigned by the Church and State.  The rebellion is very dramatic and forces the elders into a place where some of the women who have gone through much hardship and total oppression over their own lifetimes, to address the teenage emotions through their hearts and to ease the path.  It is very hard for all of these women to alter what is an endemic systematic corruption.  It is exploited at so many levels and any rebellion is accompanied usually by myself gyration and Turkey has suffered through migration and is itself under great strain and pressure to accommodate the exodus from Syria.

How this film concludes is open ended at the same time salutary and asking as many questions as it began with.                    It is a far bigger development of the questioning of frictions and oppression withinTurkey as is replicated elsewhere and extremely well told.

Conclusion ####4

A very good interpretation of religious and cultural pressures on women in Turkey through hyper real scenes and general feel of opposites juxtaposed to bring forth a very serious and angry forceful delivery and on behalf of women’s rights.            It is on a daily basis Women’s rights are suppressed in Turkey and it wonders how it cannot become a country, it has in the past sometimes achieved it, without sectarian forms of imperialism.  It is a question put to the Muslim Faith of equality of Man and Woman.  No differences existing Christian religions and though axiomatically the Christian Faith is also at times a place of inequality and with divisions not just in having women of Faith practice as Ministers, as leaders of theology, of having the right to marry and remain Priests and that’s the men! there is no singularity or consensus.  This film tackles central women’s oppression through non-religious practice positing itself as of God while denying Gods word and equality amongst all human beings.  It does it in a love thy neighbour way conspicuously and forcefully so it may become in itself recognised as part of the argument. It is indeed a well crafted and brilliantly achieved piece of cinema with many layers and welcome views.

John Graham

4 May 2016

At QFT Belfast from Friday 13 May 2016 through to 19 May 2016 . Cert. 15.


2 thoughts on “Mustang : A Film Review

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