In a small Turkish village, sisters Lale (Günes Sensoy), Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu), Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), Ece (Elit Iscan) and Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan) find themselves kept under tight watch after they are seen playing with young boys their own age. As time passes and the older sisters are married off, the house becomes more and more claustrophobic, and the girls resort to desperate measures to gain their freedom.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year at this year’s Oscars, Mustang is the story of past meeting present, traditional values being questioned and, most of all, five young women’s quest for freedom.
The five actresses who play the young sisters, Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan and Ilayda Akdogan have an easy chemistry together, and it would be easy to believe that these young girls have known one another their entire lives. There is much more going on underneath the surface, and these actresses all manage to convey a feeling of unease, as well as a desire to be free and live as they wish. Nihal G. Koldas plays the girls’ grandmother, and swings between over protection to fear and intimidation, and Ayberk Pekcan plays the controlling male presence in the house, Erol.
Deniz Gamze Ergüven and Alice Winocour’s screenplay focuses on the story as told by one of the youngest sisters in the family. There is always a hint that more is going on in the house and simple control, but much of this is left to the audience to discover, rather than being explicitly thrown onto the screen. As well as being a story of abuse and intimidation, Mustang is a story of adolescence, discovery, first love and solidarity, with scenes of sunlight and sunbathing juxtaposed against the bars on the windows and outdoor areas of the house.
Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven makes her first feature length film one that does not seem to have much going on in terms of pace, but once events in the film really begin to take shape, the film gathers speed and strength. The performances feel natural and the rare bursts of comedy and happiness balance out the creeping feeling of dread throughout the film.
In all, Mustang is a dark and extreme coming of age story, marked with tragedy and loss. The performances in the film anchor the slightly meandering and loose story, and the tone of the film is balanced between despair and happiness, with the five central actresses supporting one another through the story.