The indie French film, ‘Mustang’ is so exceptional. It was written by Deniz Gamze Erguven and Alice Winocour. Erguven directed the film which was produced by Charles Gillibert. Erguven was born in Turkey but moved to France at an early age and moved back for a brief period. The film is Turkish, but, it is a French entry for best Foreign Language Film. Erguven was brave enough to give us a penetrating and realistic look into what it is like for five teenage girls to be growing up in a small village in northern Turkey. The subject would have been taboo in her country. But, she sheds light on what it was like for her and her mother to grow up in a country that impedes and restricts women.
Erguven’s first producer pulled out and in the nick of time, French producer, Charles Gillibert, who just started his own film production company and was familiar with her work came on board to produce the film. Gillibert was at the Q and A along with Erguven at the Sundance Sunset Cinema along with the five “mustangs.” Had he not come on board when he did, we might not have seen this striking story.
I was touched by the 5 girls’ performances. They were so natural and believable; I was surprised to learn they were not even friends, and only one girl was a professional actress, Elit Iscan, who played Ece. Erguven had seen Elit in two films and wrote the character of Ece for her. The girls formed a bond while filming.
Erguven was compelled to write this personal story which was based on her own upbringing and her mother’s as well. Turkey has become conservative with AKP, the country’s ruling party and issues have changed for women. Erguven had moved with her family to Paris when she was six months old. She returned briefly to live in Turkey when she was nine years old and visits family.
The incident that triggered the girls’ “imprisonment” in their grandmother’s home in their village was one from Erguven’s own childhood. In the film, the girls frolic on the beach and sit on the boys’ shoulders while playing in the sea. Unbeknownst to them, a nosy neighbor has reported them. Their innocent actions were gravely misinterpreted by people in their village and by their grandmother (Nihal Koldas) and uncle (Ayberk Pekan). Their behavior was scandalous. And, so they become prisoners in their own home and when summer was over, they were not allowed to return to school.
Their grandmother removed all “instruments of corruption” including cell phones, computers, seductive clothing, make up, etc. Grandmother locked all in the closet. They are literally imprisoned and bars were put on the windows to keep the girls in and boys out. The girls were instructed on how to become wives and are given cooking lessons. One by one, they are introduced to boys and their families for “arranged marriages.”
The girls must be pure and not have any sexual encounters. It even is frowned upon it they eye contact a boy or giggle. They are to be submissive and obey their grandmother and uncle. One sister has a boyfriend and she rebels and agrees to only marry him. Another sister is matched with an unromantic boy. She submits. The couple traditionally bed in the boys’ parents home and he must show the sheet with his virgin bride’s blood to his parents. Only this virgin did not bleed. She is subjected to a gynecological exam to prove she was a virgin. Humiliating.
The youngest and most precocious, Lale, so well-acted by Gunes Sensoy, puts up resistance. She will not be a submissive child-bride. And, she protects her sister as well. I loved Sensoy’s portrayal of this feisty and determined girl. She will do what she has to and be strong to stay true to herself. There were wonderful scenes between these girls. They were indeed “mustangs”, spirited little horses. Only, one sister did not fare well as she refused to submit to her uncle. The other girls were played by Ilayda Akdogan (Sonay), Tugba Sungurogulu (Selma), Doga Doguslu (Nur), Gunes Sensoy (Lale), and Elit Iscan (Ece). Erol Asfin played Osman, a fellow who drives a truck whom Lale befriends who helps rescue her and her sister.
This is a real eye opening film and had such good production values. The writing captured a different note in each girl’s character. The cinematography by David Chizallet and Ersin Gok was breath taking and beautiful. And Erguven’s direction was spotless. The film had such a personal true ring to it. It felt like a documentary that we were privileged to sit like a fly on a wall and watch. While much of it felt improvised, Erguven said it was mostly scripted. Some scenes with the five girls in the beginning were improvised.
This is a “must see” film. It is courageous, daring and beautifully told and acted. Check your theatre guides to see a theater where “Mustang” is playing.