Turk­ish delight

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

MUS­TANG Di­rected by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. Star­ring Gunes Nez­ihe Sen­soy, Doga Zeynep Do­guslu, Tugba Sun­guroglu, Elit Is­can, Ilayda Ak­do­gan, Ni­hal Koldas, Ay­berk Pek­can, Ser­ife Kara. 15A, lim­ited re­lease, 97 min This won­der­ful, Os­car-nom­i­nated de­but by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, a Turk­ish di­rec­tor based in France, sug­gests one of those play­ful nov­els – The Vir­gin Sui­cides springs to mind – that em­ploy a first-per­son plu­ral nar­ra­tor.

Mus­tang con­cerns the tribu­la­tions of five sis­ters suf­fer­ing ev­ery­day op­pres­sion in a ru­ral corner of Ana­to­lia. Ergüven does find in­di­vid­ual voices for each char­ac­ter, but the last­ing im­pres­sion is of an in­ven­tive hive mind work­ing upon a flock of ever-scur­ry­ing bod­ies. They press heads to­gether into a star and look hun­grily down at the cam­era. They tum­ble into the hall like canal water un­leashed through lock gates. If the story were a lit­tle less sad, the film’s de­li­cious en­ergy would be eas­ier to cel­e­brate.

We be­gin with the girls, or­phaned some years pre­vi­ously, mak­ing for the beach on the last day of term. Their harm­less frol­ics with boys land them in trou­ble when a lo­cal busy­body re­ports the mild las­civ­i­ous­ness to their tyran­ni­cal un­cle and tra­di­tional grand­mother. An in­creas­ingly re­pres­sive regime is in­sti­tuted that be­gins with the con­fis­ca­tion of all modern tech­nol­ogy and – fol­low­ing an il­licit trip to a foot­ball match – leads on to the erec­tion of iron grids over win­dows. Then their guardians be­gin mar­ry­ing them off to the lo­cal dullards.

There are gen­uine hor­rors here. The scene in which one of the girls must show the fam­ily bloody sheets on her wed­ding night plays like some­thing out of Car­rie. But Mus­tang is gen­er­ous to the girls’ granny, who, though tied in to re­pres­sive tra­di­tions, al­ways shows af­fec­tion for her charges. This ru­ral so­ci­ety re­gards each young woman as a bur­den that much be man­aged with the least de­gree of fuss.

Re­form seems im­pos­si­ble. But es­cape to the big city – Is­tan­bul has the same al­lure that Moscow of­fered in Three Sis­ters – re­mains a dream that seems al­most within reach. The film’s con­clu­sion does strain credulity a lit­tle, but, swollen with some gor­geous mu­sic by War­ren El­lis, the fi­nal scenes still stir the soul. Es­sen­tial.

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