Blink and you might miss something crucial in Mustang. Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut follows five sisters, tweens and teens, orphaned and living with their grandmother and uncle in a Turkish village. Told, with voiceover, from the POV of the youngest, Lale, Mustang documents the disintegration of female selfhood by conservative forces: The girls are shamed for playing chicken fight with boys, made to wear ugly dresses, subjected to virginity checks, married off against their will. After their windows are barred-up and their home becomes a virtual prison, some of the girls find avenues of resistance, while others resign, mirthless, their happiness squashed. In addition to filming the actual landscape—the sea and mountains and footpaths—Ergüven plots female-male dynamics in traditional Turkish society, however accurately. Focusing on the prosaic rather than the sensational, Ergüven devotes more time to scenes of sororal bonding rather than the tragedies that punctuate the narrative. Although Ergüven doesn’t exploit the built-in sympathies too much, Mustang is a fairy-tale; the uncle is an unambiguously evil character. DPs David Chizallet and Ersin Gok flood most frames with light, cementing the girls’ uniform beauty. Sometimes suspenseful, sometimes imposing, Warren Ellis’s score is sometimes helpful.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White