Starring: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu
After five orphan sisters are caught playing an innocent game on a beach, their deeply conservative guardians believe the game played not to be innocent and so confine these sisters to their family home. The sisters are now essentially prisoners in their own home, being taken out of school and given lessons at home solely regarding housewife duties, while their guardians arrange marriages for them. However the sister’s deep passion for freedom remain and they seek ways of getting around the constraints forced upon them.
One of my main arguments as to why watching world cinema can be so rewarding is not only the great stories that are told, but also their unique cultural significance and how they can educate the viewer of different cultures around the world. Mustang is such a film in that its unique cultural setting is certainly what drives its narrative, but it is still very much an accessible and relatable story to all viewers of any culture.
There have been inevitable comparisons made to The Virgin Suicides, and though Mustang is about five teenage sisters kept as prisoners in their home, that is essentially where the similarities end as the plot to Mustang then takes different, more culturally specific turns. What also makes Mustang such an engaging film is that it never takes any preachy or moralistic standpoint; it never (at least in my opinion) attempts to simply say to tell the audience that what they are watching is wrong and deeply oppressive. The film presents its story in a very matter-of-fact way, never attempting to force a moral point of view on the viewer, but simply letting us form our own opinions as we get to know the characters. Crucially the sister’s uncle and grandmother (their legal guardians) are never portrayed as oppressive and nasty, Ergüven intentionally goes for an understated tone to not only the depiction of the film’s characters, but the entire, character driven narrative.
The lack of preachy morals allows us to simply get to know the film’s main characters, and their infectious personalities and collective desire to get to know the ever-changing world around them while also understanding themselves and not only their role in society, but the role society expects of them, and it makes for truly engaging viewing. Many of these personality traits are also not gender specific, which allows the characters to be relatable to all viewers. It is however the roles forced upon the sisters by those around them that are gender specific, and how they individually deal with this is part of what drives the overall character-driven narrative and certainly makes for engaging viewing as we cannot help but sympathise with their very basic and relatable goal; to experience the world and figure out who they truly are and what they personally want in life.
The performances are all excellent; the actresses playing the five sisters are all exceptional, demonstrating the youthful naivety, but infectious energy for discovering about the world around them with absolute believability that fits in perfectly with the naturalistic, character-driven style of the script and narrative. Likewise Nihol G. Koldas and Ayberk Pekcan are exceptional as sister’s respective grandmother and uncle. As the sister’s legal guardians, they are also complex characters as we do not know their own backstories or the exact circumstances that lead to them being responsible for these five sisters, but the excellent performances only enhance the script’s matter-of-fact depictions of their characters, and we the viewer inevitably have conflicted feelings towards them. Which is only a good, and appropriate thing.
Likewise the film is beautifully shot, with David Chizallet and Ersin Gok’s luscious cinematography capturing the stunning countryside that the characters live in, and it only makes the viewer also want to explore it. Meanwhile Warren Ellis’ understated score enhances the film’s atmosphere and the often visual juxtaposition of freedom and repression.
As the narrative goes along, the older sisters have their turn at being chosen a husband, and naturally each sister reacts differently, with each marriage that is shown making for intriguing viewing that also helps to emphasise each sister’s unique personality. In the film’s conclusion not all sisters remain, but Ergüven skilfully keeps the tone of the film consistent and provides us with an unforgettable and emotionally rewarding ending. Mustang certainly never attempts to provide us with any answers, as Ergüven shows that she is intelligent enough to appreciate that a film cannot achieve such a thing on this chosen subject matter, but there is no denying that it is a deeply involving film that leaves a lasting impression on the viewer, and therefore surely achieves any goals it may have initially had.
An intelligent and wonderfully observed film of themes that are both relatable to all, while also being culturally specific; Mustang is alive with thoughts and ideas, and will capture the heart and mind of any viewer and leave an unforgettable impression.