In the closeknit seaside village of Inebolu in Turkey, a woman spies her neighbor's five girls horsing around in the sea with boys after school. Their grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas), who has raised them, accuses them of 'pleasuring themselves on the necks of boys.' Their Uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan, "Winter Sleep") is furious. Determined to marry them off before they create more scandal, Erol fortifies the home with iron bars, locking them away without access to phones or computers, but there is no penning a wild "Mustang."
Cowriter (with Alice Winocour, "Home")/director Deniz Gamze Ergüven filmed her feature debut in her birth country, but it was her adopted country of France that submitted it to the Academy in hopes of Foreign Language Film nomination (it's made the shortlist). Frequently compared to Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides," Ergüven's film does have in common five sisters oppressed by religious beliefs, but "Mustang" is much richer, a feminist portrait of youth in rebellion against an entire country's patriarchal culture. (There's a bit of Panahi's "Offside" in here as well, Ergüven's soccer mad girls escaping for a game.) Her sisters, mostly played by non professionals, are more deeply defined than Coppola's were and she's made a major find in Günes Sensoy who plays the central character of youngest sister Lale.
Grandma wastes no time getting the girls sewing chaste, drab dresses and learning to cook, but when the first family arrives with a potential mate, the eldest, Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), refuses to consider anyone but her boyfriend Ekin (Enes Surum), so it is Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu) who is betrothed to Osman (Erol Afsin). When Ekin happily agrees to marry Sonay, a double wedding quickly follows, one bride happy, the other downcast. With Ece (Elit Iscan), the middle sister, next in line, it becomes uncomfortably clear why her uncle believes she is so special. Ece's tragedy moves Lale to drastic measures to save herself and next-in-line Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu).
Ergüven's film disturbs as we witness these five young beauties literally imprisoned and the ironies of a bride paraded to the doctor for a virginity test when the real threat is right within her household. But there are moments of beauty, grace and humor as well. Ergüven balances her sexual and generational clash with characters more sympathetic to the girls' plight. Grandmother may be convinced she is doing the right thing, but she is also more compassionate than her son, a true emotional attachment to traditions like the bridal trousseau softening her (she's also perfectly willing to compromise with Sonay). When Lale manages to get her sisters out to attend a soccer game with the help of affable truck driver Yasin (Burak Yigit), Aunt Emine (Aynur Komecoglu) throws a breaker to the entire town rather than allow the men to witness the girls on TV. A female teacher provides a more urban viewpoint in the rural enclave. Yasin, along with Ekin, offer men more modern in their thinking, Yasin even teaching fifteen year-old Lale how to drive.
Ergüven and her actresses create a dreamy sensuality. One can see why she chose her title, not only for the mustang's wildness, but for the coltishness of long, lean limbs, frequently entangled together among the five. They are in some ways like one being, pining for each other when any are separated, yet each distinct. But it is Günes Sensoy who makes the most indelible impression. This young unknown grabs your attention and never lets it go. The abuse and oppression in "Mustang" are infuriating, but the film is fueled by girl power.
Robin gives "Mustang" a B+.
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