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Issue No. 16 - Chaos

MUSTANG (2015) DIRECTED BY DENIZ ERGUVEN

MUSTANG (2015) DIRECTED BY DENIZ ERGUVEN

I am guessing that the somewhat enigmatic title of this film refers to the untamed coltishness ofthe five protagonists at the center of this warm-hearted, complex story of unbridled youth versus a conservative repressive society. The five sisters, who range in age from pre-pubescent to adolescence, have been orphaned and are being raised by their grandmother in a small village in Turkey. The high-spirited girls are full of life and affection for each other which seems to fuel their energy and enthusiasm exponentially. They have the ebullience of puppies and they are quite a handful.

Mustang_03
Mustang_03
Image above: © Ad Vitam, 2015.

The film opens on the last day of school before summer vacation as they bid a tearful goodbye to a beloved teacher who will not be returning. The story is seen through the eyes of Lale, the youngest sister, who is amazingly observant and clear-eyed for her age. Their liberation from school incites great exuberance as they go home from school and they are seen joyfully and innocently cavorting with some boys in the shallows of the seashore by one of the town prigs who deems it unseemly or worse and reports it to the somewhat beleagered grandmother. By the time they arrive home they are already in trouble. Taken completely by surprise they are severely taken to task, the whole time swearing their innocence. And now a whole new regime will be instituted at home.

A rigid uncle is called in to back up the grandmother. New rules are put into place, privileges are revoked, freedom is curtailed and they are in lock-down. As they chafe under the new restrictions and act out in various forms of rebellion, things only get worse and the uncle incrementally turns the home into a fortress-like prison. Their days are now spent inside being taught the homely arts of wifedom, sewing, cooking, etc. “Suitable” young men start appearing with their parents. In short order the three eldest sisters are married off.

mustang-cannes-film-festival-2
mustang-cannes-film-festival-2
Image above: © Ad Vitam, 2015.

What is fascinating and endearing is the way that the girls cope with their confinement. They are such a self-contained unit and find so many ingenious ways to keep their spirits up, amuse themselves, to subvert the authoritarianism and grab bits of freedom - all the more precious for being so hard won. As Lale keeps losing her older sisters to the arranged marriages and sees her future looming large and ominous, she becomes ever more resoourceful and determinded to escape. On account of her youth, her perceived reality is less nuanced and more black and white - free or not free. She finds an accomplice from outside and convinces him to aid and abet her scheme. The questionof “What then?” is barely considered. The great irony is that the very measures which have made their home into a prison become a means of escape.

mustang 1
mustang 1
Image above: © Ad Vitam, 2015.

The girls are all played by non-actors and are very convincingly natural and appealing. I was reminded of The Wonders, another film which features an unruly gaggle of girls living in a strict family controlled by an autoratic patriarch on an Umbrian bee farm. The action has the same pacing as the slightly manic energy of the five willful girls. The cinematographer makes maximum use of the beautiful Turkish countryside and the lovely leggy, long-haired sisters to create rich images of great beauty. The director has created a paean to the optimism and energy of youth which is a bittersweet treat to be savored and grateful for.

Mustang_3-0-2000-0-1125-crop
Mustang_3-0-2000-0-1125-crop
Image above: © Ad Vitam, 2015.

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