500 Days Of Film Reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Stunning Film About Five Sisters In Rural Turkey


School’s out and it's the beginning of summer. In a small village in northern Turkey, five sisters are on their way home.


En route, they stop for an innocent game on the beach with some local boys.


Unbeknownst to them, prying, disapproving eyes are watching - viewing their games with suspicion and sparking a potential scandal for the family.  


Once home, they are beaten by their grandmother while their uncle turns their home into a prison. Forced to wear drab clothes and kept away from school, all they have to live for is an arranged marriage.


However, the sisters are not about to lose their freedom without a fight - testing their family to breaking point. 

Is It Any Good?


Mustang is director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s first feature film.


She co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Alice Winocour (who recently directed the French thriller, Disorder) in an attempt to portray the female life experience in conservative, rural Turkey.


This experience is, as you may well fear, shocking.


However, Ergüven’s film is not, for the most part, a tough watch. (Its most upsetting moments take place off camera.) Instead, Mustang has a lightness of touch. It is funny (I laughed much more than I thought I would) and there are many uplifting scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed the girls’ youthful exuberance. They are just wonderful to watch.


Crucially, the sisters are far from meek victims of circumstance - they display surprising strength and resistance. 



Mustang's sisters are full of life and are wonderfully at ease with one another. Indeed, they are often seen as a single entity - a tumbling tangle of happy limbs. It is easy to forget that we are watching actresses here.


Remarkable then, that only one of them, Elit Iscan, has acted before. Each performance feels perfect and has the authenticity of documentary (indeed Crystal Moselle's documentary, The Wolf Pack, comes to mind). 


Events are seen through the eyes (and explained by the narration) of the youngest sister, Lale (Günes Sensoy). She is just heartbreakingly gorgeous and utterly convincing - a glorious force of nature and one, instinctively, we want to protect. 



By showing us the joyous, unrestrained nature of the five sisters, we feel the dangerous claustrophobia of their confinement. As the film progresses, so the situation becomes increasingly desperate. 


Despite fighting back against the limits imposed on them, the sisters are forced - one by one - to conform to the expectations of society. Their home becomes a wife factory, their future narrowed to the sole focus of their potential marriageability.


That this is happening in today’s supposedly enlightened world, is outrageous and almost beyond belief. And yet Mustang does not incite a sense of rage. Instead it provokes a more thoughtful (albeit insistent) response.


In its final act, Mustang becomes extremely tense. Gone are the scenes of youthful rebellion - when escape was a game to play. Lale’s situation is grave, her life at stake. She must use all of her strength and resourcefulness to break away.


I realised just how invested I was in her story when, towards the end of the film, I had to remind myself to breathe.


Mustang is a superb, thought provoking film and one I really hope that you will watch.

Random Observations

In 2015, Mustang received an Oscar nomination for best foreign film. It lost out to Son Of Saul.


Mustang has been well received around the world. However, the reception in Turkey has been deeply troubling. Both Ergüven and the five central actors have been threatened, leading the director to question (in a fascinating interview with The Guardian) if she would return to her home country to work again.


Ergüven studied at a film school in Paris, where she met Mustang’s co-writer, Alice Winocour.


Have you seen Mustang? If you have, what did you think of this film? 


Do let me know by leaving a comment in the box below!


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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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