European cinema may not only be eye-opening in regard to undiscovered talent and styles, it’s often an educating portrait of different cultures. Mustang, the Oscar-nominated Turkish film about a young sisterhood, highlights a plentiful amount of new young stars, and also striking cultural sensibilities.
Mustang focuses on five sisters who, after a playful interaction with some boys after school, get confined to their guardian’s house. The reasoning behind it is a profound conservatism, one whereby females have a very selective role in society (one that doesn’t include messing around with boys). For a modern-day story, Mustang is quite shocking, yet refreshingly damning of archaic traditions. Humour and heart comes from the girls’ rebellion, along with the ingenious tactics to escape their encampment.
Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s muted direction, along with her and co-writer Alice Winocour’s writing, keeps a relatively wide-spanning story punchy and poignant. The neatness of the film allows the big issues, and kinetic aspects of youth, sink into your psyche as you lay back and enjoy the narrative. Mustang‘s audience is, arguably, the arthouse crowd, yet there is nothing alternative about the style and storytelling here. Ergüven’s drama could easily compare with more established sister stories including The Virgin Suicides, Pride & Prejudice, and Little Women. There’s certainly something most could identify with – what remains unusual is the antiquated treatment of women. Mustang can be enjoyed and deliberated over, like most great art.
The five sisters who carry this film masterfully are of varying age and type. The combination of character allows you to follow five very distinctive plot strands. At the forefront is the young Lale (an extraordinary Günes Sensoy), watching her older sisters get washed up in the societal structures that will eventually leave her alone with her foster parents. The build-up to this prospect is where a lot of the tension lies, and the gradual pacing makes it for a captivating watch. On the side, there is Lale’s football fancy, and her innocent free spirit that defies what is expected of her. Seeing such blithe disregard for the rules is joyous. When the tone shifts, and drama and despair hits, it hits hard due to the playfulness bookending most of it.
Turkey isn’t regularly featured in the foreign film line-up of awards season, but this year has hopefully changed that. Mustang showcases enormous talent, and a culture awaiting further cinematic exploration. Youth, gender and sisterhood hasn’t been profiled altogether this brilliantly in a while.