Freelancer and aspiring journalist from Adelaide. Visual Arts graduate & current journalism student. Fashion, lifestyle, entertainment, art & food. I also write for The Adelaidian // theadelaidian.net/author/georgina-tselekidis
Published July 6th 2016
A sisterly bond that cannot be broken
Mustang tells the profound story of five young Turkish women who are prisoners in their own home, stripped of their own identity and future by the hands of their strict family. Forbidden to venture away from their homestead, study, have friends or merely live happy adolescent lives, these five beautiful sisters are forced to remain behind bared windows, clean, cook and ultimately marry and assert their own desires. Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven paints a powerful portrait of female empowerment in this moving Turkish drama.
As the film commences, we are instantly lured in by the energy and spirit of the five young girls who are innocently splashing away at the beach with friends. Their vivacious identities are conveyed as they happily feel comfortable in their own skin, away from their archaic home environment. However, as they return, they're interrogated for their 'illicit' behaviour as seen by passers by in the small Turkish community. Their grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas), who raised them since their parents died, takes them into a room where they're beaten and 'disciplined'. Although we don't see what's happening, we're aware from the obvious fear and yelping of each sister that's singularly dragged behind the closed doors. From this point on, we're simultaneously introduced to the constant turmoil the girls face on a daily basis. Their old-fashioned and judgmental uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan), steps in and begins a tirade, locking up the grounds, placing bars on the girls windows and eliminating anything that could possibly 'corrupt' the girls further. Although many assume the treatment of the sisters is 'old-school' the director aims to create a timeless feel - conveying how this oppression is sadly relatable in our contemporary society.
Through natural hand-held camera techniques, artistically filmed compositions and visually slow sequenced scenes, we are brought along the girls' boredom, loneliness and inner sadness, as they're forbidden to naturally flourish. Ergüven isn't afraid to confront the audience with an otherworldly reality through realistic and candidly raw scenes that have the power to effectively evoke unease in the viewer. Lale and her older sistersSonay (Ilayda Akdogan), Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), Ece (Elit Iscan) and Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu) possess a rebel spirit that's playful and familiar to any gender, age and ethnicity. However, once again their true personas are shunned, as grandma forces them to wear hand-sewn frumpy frocks that hide their bodies in order to be 'respectful women' that are worthy of marriage. In the meantime, their sexuality is challenged with trips to male doctors for virginity inspections and disturbing midnight visits from their barbaric uncle.
'The house became a wife factory that we never came out of', Lale expresses as the narrator of the story, making one think she is a younger Ergüven. It's a scary realization that the director delivers. Teenagers should be enjoying the ride of adolescence and all that comes with it; spending time with friends, studying and discovering who they are, yet in Mustang the girls are simply robbed of their childhood and prepped to marry one by one. Sitting around the family room, neighbors visit the household to offer their sons as husbands in arranged marriages, the eldest sisters serve coffee and grandma comments on how 'nice' they are; it's like an auction with a bitter undertone. These scenes serve as a reminder of how fortunate and privileged society is to attend school and university, maintain a social life and of course, choose who to marry and at what age we personally deem fit.
Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven uses warm, natural and ambient lighting hues to suggest a sense of innocence and untouched beauty of the girls who are beginning to blossom into young women. Set in a coastal town in northern Turkey, the viewer is made to feel a part of the narrative, as though we are alongside the girls' desperate yearning for freedom. Scorching warm days are established and used to portray how 'trapped in' and 'suffocated' they really are. Although Mustang possesses a melancholy feel due to the dominant patriarchal oppression present, the film also conveys a sense of hope and lightheartedness through the girls' rebellion, courage and heroic acts of defiance despite known consequences. Their lively spirit is not dimmed, as they strive to break free from their family's stringent way of life. The girls' loyalty to one another is admirable, as the younger ones join forces to avoid the same fate as their married off siblings.
Photo Courtesy of Kinogallery.com
The fierce Lale is a mere child, however, a fearless and quick-witted attitude makes her Mustang's central character. As the girls strive to escape on more than one occasion, such as Lale's favourite soccer team match, the audience is taken along a whirlwind of intense emotion. Ergüven brings a potent authenticity through the film techniques, style and story line that's almost reminiscent of a documented first-hand experience and true account of real events. Likewise, the viewer is given an exact interpretation of the girls' grim reality, as most of the scenes are filmed within the same location, making us feel as though we are 'stuck' there with them. A simple scene of the girls pretending to swim at the beach in their bathers, giggling away and rolling around on a bunch of mattresses, suggests a sad undertone of their limited interaction with the outside world. But a hint of naive happiness is also noticed through a strong sisterly bond that proves they're just grateful to have one another.
The two remaining unmarried girls plan their elopement to Istanbul, which lies in the hands of Lale and her weeks of secret driving lessons. Suddenly, their choice to escape becomes a struggle that sees the audience hang off the edge of their seats in anticipation of being discovered by their uncle. Mustang has been compared to the likes of the popular Virgin Suicides by Sofia Coppola, but its genuine yet powerful narrative, cultural significance and place on the map set it apart, leaving an everlasting impression long after exiting the cinema.
Mustang is currently playing at Palace Nova East End Cinemas, Rundle Street.