This film was nominated as Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and Golden Globes.
It is early summer in a village in Northern Turkey. Five free-spirited teenaged sisters splash about on the beach with their male classmates. Though their games are merely innocent fun, a neighbor passes by and reports what she considers to be illicit behavior to the girls’ family. The family overreacts, removing all ‘instruments of corruption,’ like cell phones and computers, and imprison the girls, subjecting them to endless lessons in housework in preparation for becoming brides. As the eldest sisters are married off, the younger ones bond together to avoid the same fate. The fierce love between them empowers them to rebel and chase a future where they can determine their own lives in Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut, a powerful portrait of female empowerment.
The story isn’t particularly original, but Mustang’s achievement is to criticize a society that sexualizes everything women do while still celebrating the girls’ sexuality. The movie pulsates with the sisters’ raw, youthful sexuality, all lips and legs and flowing hair—the same sexuality that so threatens those who wish to contain it. It spends a good amount of time depicting young women in their underwear, but it never feels exploitative. Instead, these scenes of the sisters tanning in bikinis, dancing in their bras stuffed with toilet paper, or just changing their clothes feel intimate and natural, like a home video of real sisters. For all the sharpness of its commentary, the movie feels dreamy and languid, with colors reminiscent of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), a classic about the sexuality of adolescent girls.
Mustang has a fairy-tale quality about it, like a Grimms story in which the young heroine (Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood) must face witches or wolves, the cruel vagaries of life and threats of death, before she can realize her destiny. But Ergüven’s film, beautifully shot and beautifully performed, cuts its storybook tone with starker, more brutal truths. Anger – aimed at a conservative social order and those complicit in maintaining it – courses through this sad, striking tale.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall