It begins with a mixed group of children mucking about on the beach at the end of the school year, displaying the Turkish equivalent of joie de vivre [possibly yaşam sevinci depending on the quality of Google’s language skills].
“Everyone’s talking about your obscene behaviour.”
Word of the five orphaned sisters’ horseplay in the surf reaches home before them and their grandmother (played by Nihal Koldaş) berates them for inappropriate contact with boys. Their uncle (Ayberk Pekcan) starts to fortify the house, and they are immediately cut off from friends and the freedom they’d enjoyed.
“The house became a wife-factory.”
“If there was the slightest doubt you wouldn’t be able to get married.”
The grandmother is torn. Along with her sister she reacts sympathetically when the girls seize an opportunity to escape their incarceration. But she bows to the pressure of wanting the girls married off without fuss before she dies.
This is not a coming of age film that oozes sexuality and hedonism. After a moment of voyeurism, director Deniz Gamze Ergüven (making her feature debut) steers the film back towards the five teenage sisters facing the very adult prospect of being rapidly married off to strangers … or taking matters into their own hands. Gradually, the house’s defences are reinforced and the youthful laughter subdues as each child faces their future with varying degrees of hope and doom. The contrast of emotion is heart-breaking.
Barely any religious practice is betrayed. Mustang is not a film that rails against religion or is totally damning of arranged marriages. One sister puts her foot down and selects her beau. The girls’ custody is both physical and emotional. Even when some escape the house through marriage, contact is irregular and there’s little effort to come back to help the sisterhood who remain. And where’s the knock on the door from a curious school principal to find out where five pupils have gone?
Deep strings and piano accompanies some scenes, intensifying the sick feeling in the audience’s stomachs. Mustang is troubling to watch and raises questions about how men - and women - behave, how society cares for its youth, and how different cultural norms can be squared against a western sensibility of what is right and proper.
Mustang will be screened in Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 13 to Thursday 19 May.