Mustang Review

Bottom Line: Must See! 

Dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Cinematography: David Chizallet

Music: Warren Ellis

Release: 2015 (Cannes)

There can never be enough films telling stories as enchanting as this one, of womanhood (especially those by a female director) and reflecting on a coming-of-age perspective often treated as second-place in many countries and societies.  


 The theatre was blissfully empty and I had been putting off seeing this movie for a while, despite the immediate gut feeling upon watching the trailer. Mustang is a coming-of-age film of five sisters in Turkey who grow are growing up in a society that has its own, unwavering ideas of what womanhood should be. The film amassed an impressive number of awards and nominations, the most prominent being the César wins for Best New Feature and Best Writing, as well as the nomination for the Academy Award for Foreign Feature (loosing to Son of Saul). I may need serious convincing that Son of Saul deserved the win over Mustang, in my eyes though, it’s an all-round winner. Visually, this film was a warm-hued flurry of young skin and hair. The camera stayed close to the girls, for once showing female skin as something other than idealized and sexualized. Instead, there are many early shots of endless limbs interwoven into a strong sisterly bond. Of course, it is this very bond that is put through hell as slowly the girls are married off one by one, leaving the youngest (our eyes and ears) to be in charge of figuring out an escape route.The film uses many close-ups that both strengthen your intimacy with the girls and enhance the claustrophobia of being locked in a house, a body even, that society deems under its control. 

There are visual nudges to what happens behind closed doors (abuse) as well as painful moments. When their grandmother starts punishing the girls physically one by one after being seen swimming and playing with teenage boys, the overreaction seems obvious enough to know that there’s more to her story. Indeed, by the end of the film, you can’t really blame her. The physical effect of watching her granddaughters go through this is evident in her exhaustion and anxiety. Although her frailty isn’t blamed, her conformity isn’t praised either. In terms of narrative style, the muted, simple and read-between-the-lines, foreign film approach has a long-standing place in my heart. In a movie like this, any extra dialogue isn’t necessary. You have everything you need to feel in the gazes of the characters, in their expressions and bodies. A lot of this is owed to the wonderful acting from the girls and the direction. Their excitement, fragility, maturity and immaturity speaks volumes. It also goes hand in hand with the stripped down filming style, which is largely hand-held and digital. By stripped down I mean that there is an openness, a simplicity kind of like that of the Dardenne brothers (as eloquently put by James Franco in his discussion – below). The filming style also reminded me of Eric Guirado’s The Grocer’s Son, running along the similar line of simple but effective and poetic pauses in the cinematography and editing. There were times where the nature of shooting on digital was fairly obvious, such as the noise in one bedroom night scene and the blur of the camera tracking. I personally don’t see this as a flaw at all. It’s an understandable part of the context the film was made in and contributes to the style rather than distracting from it. 

The story of these sisters is no doubt a story of many others, but it’s also obviously tapping into the very current discussion of feminism and the misunderstanding that comes with it –  redefining what it means to be a woman. For anyone struggling with that definition themselves Mustang is a good place to start. 

Read/Watch some more: – Interview with director


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