French-Turkish director, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s feature debut won four awards at the Cesars, including Best First Feature. It also won Best European Film at the Goyas and has won, or been nominated for, a swag of other awards.
It is easy to see why.
From the opening line “Everything was fine. And then it all went to shit”, we sense that this melancholy scenario will be relieved with moments of sassy humour. In fact it is that sassiness which kicks off the plot. Five orphaned girls are being raised by their grandmother in a Turkish village. As the eldest starts to enter womanhood, their uncle, concerned at their carefree behaviour, pressures grandmother to keep them “intact”. And so the house is locked and the girls are stripped of computers, make-up, phones and anything else which might corrupt them. In the words of the girls themselves: “From then on, the house became a wife-factory.”
At the heart of this feature is the gently observed interactions of the five girls. Erguven allows them to interact physically in a way that is so natural one could almost be watching a documentary. Intense emotions and socio-political constructs are presented through the simple observation of five, young women. Early in the piece there is a telling scene where the uncle is demanding that the girls be shut-down before they become unmarriagable and it is the seemingly-conservative grandmother who fights for their right to be free. One senses her latent, feministic anger, yet it is presented in the most subtle form.
All through this film subtlety and humour abound. This is a microscopic portrait which becomes thematically panoramic.
Erguven and Alice Winocour’s screenplay serves as a platform for the outstanding performances by this wonderful cast. Only one of the girls had ever acted before: Erguven found the others, partly through auditions. She says she was not looking for training, but rather for ‘certain qualities’. She certainly found those.
This film received a mostly negative reaction in Turkey because of its content. Erguven says that the situation for women in her home country is ‘very grave’.
This is a beautiful film. This is an important film. Let us hope it leads to more dialogue around the parlous state of women’s rights, not just in Turkey.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Rating out of 10: 8
Mustang will be released in cinemas on 23 June 2016.