Film Review: Mustang

In association with Glasgow Film Theatre

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The debut feature film from Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven is both a visual delight and a tightly-wound, deeply affecting drama. Five orphaned teenage girls are raised in a remote village in Turkey by their grandmother and uncle. When a neighbour catches them playing innocently with a group of boys at the beach and misconstrues it as wanton sexuality, their uncle decides it’s time to arrange their marriages. The girls are therefore locked in the house until that time to keep their chastity safe.

The script is a pin-sharp observation of the mind-set of teenage girls. The narrator and youngest sister, Lale, is at turns clever, innocent, insolent and fragile; “the house became a wife factory” she deadpans as the orphans sit glumly round the table while their grandmother teaches them to cook. The girls’ rapid, poignant loss of innocence is amplified by the teenage cast – all long, tangled hair, wide eyes and sharp elbows, they are startlingly young and, well, childlike.

The extraordinary cinematography comes through best in scenes of the girls’ entrapment in their bedrooms, all motes of dust in sunlit windows and crumpled, pastel-pink sheets. The dreamlike, lazy intensity and boredom of teenage girlhood haven’t been captured so accurately or beautifully since Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides.

The jolt from the halfway-house of the teenage experience to enforced womanhood is almost sickening in its speed; as the younger sisters dance at the first wedding, the bride slinks around the edges of the party, silently, tearfully finishing everyone’s drinks. When she produces no blood on the bedsheets on her wedding night, her new husband’s parents drag them to the hospital to test her virginity. She stands small and awkward in the waiting room, balling up the skirts of her wedding dress in her hands.

Mustang is without a doubt my favourite film of the year so far. Its tender, charming portrait of teenage innocence and warning on the cruelty of patriarchy are fresh and achingly honest. As a debut, this is a triumph – I cannot wait to see what Ergüven does next.

Mustang won the Audience Award at Glasgow Film Festival 2016. The film will be running at Glasgow Film Theatre from the 13th to the 22nd of May.

[Clare Patterson – @clurrpatterson]

 

 

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