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.