Review: Mustang


DIR: Deniz Gamze Ergüven • WRI: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour • PRO: Charles Gillibert DOP: David Chizallet, Ersin Gok • ED: Mathilde Van de Moortel • DES: Turker Isci • MUS: Warren Ellis • CAST: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu

Mustang was praised and celebrated while doing the festival circuit last year. It won the Lux prize, the Europa Cinemas Label Award, and a number of César (French film) awards as well as earning Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. This weekend sees its highly-anticipated release in Irish cinemas. The debut feature of Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven follows a group of five young orphaned sisters who differ in personalities but share a love of life and steely determination. They struggle to retain their freedom in a remote, conservative and heavily patriarchal village in northern Turkey.

The film opens on the girls’ last day of school. After classes end, the sisters go to the beach with a group of boys from their class. Though their play with the boys is innocent, they are beaten by their adopted grandmother when they get home and accused of causing a scandal.

Their uncle Errol, upon hearing of their behaviour, is enraged, and from then on the girls are forbidden to leave the house. Their phones, computers and all other distractions are taken away from them. Isolated from their friends and the world outside, the girls have only one another for support and comfort. Since they are no longer allowed to go to school, the girls are instead taught to be suitable housewives, with local women coming to their house to make them new brown, shapeless clothes, and to teach them how to cook, clean and sew. The youngest sister, Lale (Günes Sensoy), whose perspective guides the audience through the story, describes their home as having been turned into a ‘wife factory’ and it would seem the girls’ fate is sealed. However, the sisters refuse to give up their freedom without a fight, and their individual rebellions have various consequences. Though young in age, the choices they make now will determine the course of their lives.

With its themes of young, female rebellion (supported by the film’s tagline of ‘Their Spirit Would Never Be Broken’) and development into womanhood, the tone of the film resonates strongly with films like The Virgin Suicides and Girl, Interrupted. The young women that make up the cast, the other actresses aside from Sensoy being Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, and Ilayda Akdogan, are exceptionally talented and carry the weight of this highly emotional story with grace. The audience is brought on an emotional roller coaster with the five leads as they alternately sympathise with the sisters’ suffering, empathise with their frustration, celebrate their accomplishments, and sombrely fear for their futures.

The close and loving relationship between them is beautifully and touchingly captured by the cinematographers David Chizallet and Ersin Gok’s unique visual style. The performances by the girls’ grandmother, played by Nihal Koldaş, and their cruel uncle Errol, played by Ayberk Pekcan, are also strong. Burak Yigit in the role of Yasin, who Lale befriends in the course of the film, is another welcome addition to the cast. Warren Ellis’ score (the Australian composer is known for his soundtracks with Nick Cave for films like The Road and The Assassination of Jesse James) is highly emotive and sensitively complements the narrative.

The story of Mustang is dramatic and compelling as we are never really sure of what the fates of the young women will be. The plot pacing never falters, and at a running length of only ninety minutes, its ability to pull the audience into the world and align them with the characters with such immediacy and poignancy is impressive. Enrapturing and moving, Mustang marks a self-assured and potent debut for director-writer Gamze Ergüven. It is exciting to think of what she will do next.

Deirdre Molumby

97 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Mustang is released 13th May 2016

Mustang – Official Website