Thursday, May 05, 2016

Mustang - misplaced desire for chastity leads to isolation in this sad Turkish tale (QFT until 19 May)

Mustang is an incredibly sad film: a story about being confined, isolated and forced to make difficult choices. (A recurring theme in films being screened at the QFT so far this year.)

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.”

Home schooling switches to a curriculum of cuisine and home-making. The girls are kitted out in “shit-coloured, shapeless dresses” and only appear in public to parade down an impromptu catwalk to catch the eye of families who may fancy them for their sons.
“If there was the slightest doubt you wouldn’t be able to get married.”

The village community depicted in Mustang has an unhealthy obsession with chastity and physical virginity. While intimate checks are made by compliant doctors to produce ‘virginity reports’, it’s sickening to discover that an adult male in the family is abusing at least one of his nieces.

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?

The off-screen narration by the youngest sister Lale (Güneş Şensoy) jars a little in the opening scenes but is soon forgotten as the scandalous situation unfolds. Lale witnesses what’s happening to her sisters and while she may have a few years to wait, she wastes no time in planning ahead. A local truck driver Yasin is perhaps the only honourable man in the whole film, a rare saint among sinners.

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.


Anonymous said...

I don't have any comment about the film as I haven't seen it yet, but I thought I'd mention that the director is a woman, so it is 'her' feature debut. Cheers

Alan Meban said...

Thanks - fixed. Let me know what you think of the film when you get to see it.