Back in the beginning of October I checked out Son of Saul and until the end of 2015 I was confident in saying that there was no other worthy and important competition for it when it came to taking a Golden Globe or Oscar. Then my first screening of 2016 came along and threw all of my predictions into doubt. Yes, Son of Saul is a soul shattering look at the Holocaust through the eyes of a man living through the unspeakable horrors but the the French made Turkish film Mustang is more important now than anyone could possibly believe, as I’m sure the young women being oppressed in Turkey could attest to.
Missing my opportunity to check out the film when it screened at Vancouver International Film Festival, I was quickly aware of its importance through word of mouth alone. Receiving mass acclaim and multiple awards from many film festivals overseas I had really felt that I missed out on something really special in 2015, as I didn’t get to see it until this year and I had no intention of re evaluating my year’s top ten. It was a “kill your darlings” situation as it was and Mustang proved to be a film that would have certainly made my list.
The film opens on five sisters, Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur and Lale, the latter being our conduit into the film. They’re leaving school on their last day, an emotional moment for Lale as her favorite teacher is moving away from the small village where they live to the big city of Istanbul. Instead of taking the shuttle directly home, the girls decide to stop at the beach with a couple of boys and play around in the water, a very innocent act that gets turned on them as soon as they get home.
The girls are being raised by their grandmother and uncle, as their parents passed away due to undisclosed circumstances. Their grandmother is furious with them as starts to discipline them without explanation. She then informs them that their neighbor told her that they were caught on the beach being sexually promiscuous with some school boys. Immediately enraged when he’s told about it, their uncle Erol hastily brings the older two girls in to the doctor to see if their virginity is still intact.
The storyline of the film focuses on the old world but still largely practiced arranged marriages within this hugely conservative Turkish family. One by one, these girls are paraded to the families of the preferred suitors as though being presented as obedient livestock. Already rebellious, the girls find simple and small ways to show their indignation as their uncle constantly bars up the windows of their world, imprisoning them in a world with no escape.
Make no mistake, this film will sadden you, anger you and will force that bile of disbelief into your throat. In the modern age of feminism and equality this film rings out like a bullet straight to the heart of the whole issue. It’s incredibly tragic to see the light of these blossoming women, beautifully played by an intune and gripping cast of young actresses. The most interesting concept for me is that their innocence was shattered simply by the forcefulness of being subservient “unsullied” girls, their education in this area coming from disgusting ultra conservative paranoia.
A good friend that I brought to the screening with me made a beautiful point that I need to reiterate. There are two classes of this beautiful medium that I review and critique, that is movies and film. Movies are there purely for our enjoyment, being it something like Star Wars: The Force Awakens or The Martian. Film is something that goes beyond and sticks to you, unshakable from your psyche or your soul. Mustang is a film that will push every button on your film side and may take some time to get past. That being said, it may be one of, if not the most important film to come out in 2015.
The message of Mustang is poignant and heartfelt, traveling along the beautiful sorrowful strings of Warren Ellis’s emotional score and I hope that this film won’t fall under the radar of real cinema lovers. The closeness of these sisters is told in one breathtaking shot of them lying in a pile on the floor in their sundrenched bedroom for a quiet reflective moment. This is the one moment of reprieve from the horrible oppression the girls face everyday.
It takes a special film to shine a light internationally on these issues and first time feature director Deniz Gamze Ergüven gives these girls and people like them a voice they’ve never had before. Mustang is a major must see and gets a perfect score from me. Five out of five.