It must have been a close call - Mustang lost out to Son of Saul for the Best Foreign Language gong at this year’s Oscars – but this stirring Turkish drama is equally as powerful.
Lale (Sensoy), Nur (Dogsulu), Selma (Tugba Sungoruglu), Ece (Iscan), and Sonay (Ilyada Akdogan) are five Muslim girls living with their strict grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas) and their uncle Erol (Pekcan). Their beautiful home, perched on top of a hill, is in effect a prison with Erol going as far as putting bars on the windows but the girls remain free spirits, causing their family all sorts of grief by flirting with the local boys who come to the their window at night.
When the girls sneak out one day to attend a football match (rioting at the previous game led to a one-game ban for men), their grandmother speeds up the process of arranged marriages lest disgrace ruin the family. But ten-year-old Lale, knowing what fate lies in store for her, goes about putting her secret plan to run away to Istanbul into motion…
Woman as commodity, as property: the girls here are raised to do no more than cook, clean, sew and be subservient to first their family elders and then their husbands. A "wife factory" is how one of the girls describes their home and getting married is just swapping one prison for another. The girls are subjected to invasive, humiliating episodes: after some innocent fun frolicking in the sea with the local boys, the girls are taken into town to a clinic to investigate if their virginity is intact; later when Selma doesn't bleed the night of her wedding, she is taken to a doctor to inspect her hymen. Woman as commodity, as property.
But the girls rebel against this (the title referring to girls long, unkempt hair) in ways they can. Sonay sneaks out at night with her boyfriend, ripping a baggy brown dress she's forced to wear to reveal her thigh; the sisters harangue an old woman who spread rumours of them 'pleasuring' themselves; and, in a daring act of defiance, Ece has casual sex with a random boy in her uncle's car while he’s in the bank. Lale, the youngest but most insubordinate and through whose eyes the story is told, sets about learning how to drive thanks to the sympathetic delivery man Yasin (Burak Yigit).
The Turkey-born French writer-director Denise Gamze Erguven wonderfully evokes those boring, hot days of the summer break, the monotony here ramped up with the girls stuck inside the house (when one suggests they’ll be skinned alive for going to the game, another says, "At least something will happen.") but yet Mustang is never dull. Erguven too taps into that woozy Virgin Suicides vibe by shooting the girls as almost one being; at one point, as they roll about their beds, their limbs seem entwined in each other. Her greatest coup though is despite the daily horror in which these girls are forced to live their lives (Erol rapes the older girls at night), Erguven ensures that Mustang remains a pleasurable watch throughout.
Review by Gavin Burke | 10:51 | Thursday 5th May 2016 | Movie Review