Turkish director Deniz Gamze Erguven’s debut feature Mustang won her an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and it’s easy to see why.
A compelling revelation of the oppression faced by young girls in Turkey, the film follows five orphaned sisters living in a remote area of the country. One day after school, they play with their male classmates on the beach and are scolded by their grandmother for their “obscene” behaviour. Their uncle locks them in the house, not even letting them go to school. They are forced to wear conservative clothing and are taught to cook and sew in preparation for marriage. As the older sisters are married off, Lale, the youngest sister, look for ways to escape.
While the overlying theme is depressing, the film is bright and fun, a stark contrast to the shocking events that are revealed as the film progresses.
Gunes Sensoy completely carries the film as protagonist Lale. The child actress presents Lale’s multidimensional personality with natural authenticity: she’s emotional, competitive, fiercely determined, a bit of a tomboy, and yet at the core she’s still a very young girl confused by her family’s obsession with purity and “being a good girl”.
This is a truly feminist film; and while the sisters’ fates are different, the women in the film are all portrayed in positive light, as strong, dignified victims of a male-dominated society. The men, exemplified by their uncle Erol, are portrayed as abusive and violent, storming football games and firing guns at parties; the exception is Yasin, a kind truck driver who bonds with Lale. But if you let this negative element put you off from watching the artfully scripted film, you’ll definitely be missing out.