Herizons - - Arts & Culture -

Di­rected by Deniz Gamze Er­gu­ven Mus­tang is the break­out de­but fea­ture film by Turk­ish-born di­rec­tor Deniz Gamze Er­gu­ven.

Writ­ten by Er­gu­ven and Alice Winocour, the film opens as five school­girls frolic and play in the sea with a group of school­boys.Hav­ing caught sight of this, a neigh­bour spreads word that the girls have sex­u­ally com­pro­mised them­selves. Fear­ing for the sis­ters’ mar­riage­abil­ity, older rel­a­tives de­cide the girls have been given too much free­dom, and that their bur­geon­ing sex­u­al­ity must be con­trolled.The sis­ters range in age from about 11 to 18, and the youngest are barely graz­ing ado­les­cence.

Im­me­di­ately, the sis­ters are carted off to doc­tors for vir­gin­ity checks. They are locked in the house, un­der in­creas­ingly rigid con­trols, groomed for mar­riage and taught to cook, dress mod­estly and stuff feath­ers into com­forters.One by one, they are mar­ried off.Guns are fired dur­ing wed­ding par­ties as each bride stag­gers around, be­wil­dered by her fate. The air races with fear and anx­i­ety; fe­male sex­u­al­ity must be con­trolled at all costs.Noth­ing should break or be­come lost, es­pe­cially one’s vir­gin­ity. Proof of blood on the sheet must be of­fered up on the mar­riage night.

Ini­tially, Er­gu­ven por­trays the five girls as strik­ingly beau­ti­ful and as en­tan­gled like a gar­den of wild roses—to the point where they strike awe at the glory of the nat­u­ral world, each beauty a tinier repli­ca­tion of the next, iden­ti­cal dolls, with long Dis­neyprincess hair.The sis­ters ex­press spon­tane­ity and a lack of con­scious­ness in their play, al­low­ing us to revel in the gor­geous un­gain­li­ness of youth and sis­terly af­fec­tion.Play­ing, run­ning, shout­ing, fight­ing and en­twined in each other’s bod­ies, they steal ap­ples from a neigh­bor’s tree, like Eve in the gar­den.Un­til an old man comes out lev­el­ling a gun at them, the girls ap­pear in­no­cent and un­aware of the dan­gers that await them.

Even­tu­ally, Er­gu­ven demon­strates that only as the ex­ter­nal pres­sures sep­a­rate them from their nat­u­ral world does each char­ac­ter be­come in­di­vid­u­ated, flawed and vul­ner­a­ble. Soon, it be­comes ob­vi­ous that they are pris­on­ers, and will re­main so, and that the in­no­cent free­dom they’d ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore the im­pris­on­ment was a cruel il­lu­sion.

Here in this world of con­trol and con­form­ity, the nu­ances of each sis­ter’s jour­ney be­comes more pro­nounced and ap­par­ent, more con­stricted, rigid and filled with sor­row, in­dig­na­tion and con­trol, as if each col­lapses un­der in­spec­tion. Once the caging be­gins, the shock and amaze­ment turns to rage and des­per­a­tion as each falls to her fate. Each bears a dif­fer­ent re­sponse to her im­pris­on­ment—with one, a sprite of be­wil­dered anger; with an­other, out­right re­bel­lion; and with yet an­other, a shocked ac­cep­tance.

The youngest girl is un­will­ing to ac­cept her fate.With time on her side, along with a re­bel­lious streak and a ques­tion­ing mind, she re­peat­edly re­views her op­tions as she comes to fully un­der­stand the hor­ror that awaits her.The girl, a tomboy and soc­cer fan, watches her fu­ture un­fold be­fore her with the loss of each sis­ter.As she waits her turn, she prepares for lib­er­a­tion and takes it upon her­self to fig­ure out an es­cape.She meets a ragged-haired de­liv­ery boy and asks him to help her.War­ily, he teaches her to drive.Even­tu­ally, help comes to the two youngest sis­ters in the most un­ex­pected of places.The sis­ters are not pas­sive re­cip­i­ents, but be­come co-cre­ators of their lib­er­a­tion.

Mus­tang demon­strates the power and sig­nif­i­cance of reach­ing out one’s hand un­til the dif­fi­cult jour­ney of life has gal­va­nized an­other per­son enough to have the strength to take it.

For the sis­ters in Mus­tang, the air races with fear and anx­i­ety; fe­male sex­u­al­ity must be con­trolled at all costs. Noth­ing should break or be­come lost, es­pe­cially one’s vir­gin­ity.

Di­rec­tor Deniz Gamze Er­gu­ven (right) is shown with co-writer Alice Winocour (left) af­ter Mus­tang won Best Orig­i­nal Screen­play and Best First Fea­ture Film awards at the Ce­sar Awards in France.

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