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France/Germany/Turkey/Qatar 2015
Directed by
Deniz Gamze Erguven
94 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars


Synopsis: In a rural village in northern Turkey five sisters stop off for some innocent fun at the beach with some boys. When they arrive home they are subject to a tirade from their grandmother who has brought them up. Villagers have seen them and branded them sluts. The girls are grounded and taken out of school. Things go from bad to worse as they are subjected to virginity tests then forced to stay at home and practise their domestic skills. Their oppressive uncle joins in the censure and decides the four oldest must be married off as soon as possible. But it’s not that easy to suppress their youthful spirits.

Director Deniz Gamze Erguven (who now, luckily for her, lives in France) experienced such restrictive practices as described here when she was a teen and her film is a powerful political statement about the plight of women, and the possibilities for rebellion, in a society that aspires to join the modern world but is still rooted in the past (the current Turkish PM seems opposed to any modern freedoms for women in his country).

Erguven chose to shoot the film in a remote village, 600 kms from Istanbul, and this setting lends a compelling sense of  provincial isolation with the villagers conspiring to impose their conservative values upon these girls. The main emphasis is upon the youngest sister, Lale (Gunes Sensoy), who is a powerhouse of mischief and rebellion and the lynchpin in terms of the plot’s dramatic arc. That arc becomes darker as the film progresses. When the sisters are first grounded a sense of lightness and fun remains, as they skylark in their bedroom, find a level of fun in their domestrivia, and hatch a devious plot to go to a local soccer match. But as each of the ruses is uncovered the adults become even more restrictive, bars are welded onto the windows, the house becomes a literal prison and the initial mood of frivolity vanishes completely. Families of strangers begin turning up at the home for afternoon tea and in turn the sisters are paraded by Uncle and Grandma as potential matches for the sons of the visitors. The sense of humiliation and degradation is enormous and there are also undertones of possible abuse by the uncle.

Compared to 2013’s uplifting Wadjda, which was set in Saudi Arabia, Mustang is a darker, more confronting yet ultimately hopeful film about the status of women in a tradition-bound Muslim society. It looks marvellous, feels authentic, and sports consistently powerful performances. An added bonus is the hauntingly beautiful music of Warren Ellis, Nick Cave’s musical collaborator, who won a César for Best Original Music.

Mustang  was deservedly in contention for Best Foreign Language film at this year’s Oscars while in France, where the film was produced, it won Césars for Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Film.




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