Mustang review: film a surprising emotional rollercoaster

Five sisters are locked in their own home in Mustang.
Five sisters are locked in their own home in Mustang.

PART drama and comedy that segues into thriller, alternatively infuriating and joyous, Mustang is an astonishing emotional rollercoaster feature film debut for Deniz Gamze Ergüven and piece of filmmaking in general.

It is an achievement that many filmmakers with years of experience have not yet reached.

On the last day of school, five sisters from a small village in Turkey frolic at the beach on their way home with their male schoolmates, but the innocent act has devastating ramifications.

A horrified nosey neighbour informs their traditional grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas) and guardian, who immediately locks them up, making them prisoners in their own home, teaches them to be domesticated and soon young men are being brought over to marry them.

A story of this level of oppression could easily have been a spiral into depression, for the characters and the audience, but Ergüven infuses her story with humour and hope.

The girls are at times innocent, feisty, playful, depressed, imaginative and resilient; such an array of well-rounded, fully formed female characters is overwhelmingly exciting to behold, despite the sometimes harrowing subject matter.

In particular the character arc of the youngest, Lale (Günes Sensoy), whose eyes we witness this story through, goes from carefree to heroic, at one time prancing around giggling wearing a stuffed bra, to facing off with her tyrannical uncle. It is breathtaking to watch and a rare cinematic treat.

In addition, this story is so thematically rich and rewarding in what it has to say about burgeoning female sexuality, the bond between sisters and female equality and rights.

Many other films have buckled under the weight of tackling multiple characters and themes, or could have the effect of emotional whiplash on its audience, but it is clearly where Ergüven thrives; she juggles them all with impressive ease.

It is an important film, steeped in documentary-like realism with natural performances, and a distinctive female voice and perspective that should be seen by everyone.

THE ESSENTIALS

Mustang (M)

Directed by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Starring: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu

Five stars

Review by: Julian Wright

At Cinema Paradiso from June 23