(2015, Deniz Gamze Erguven)
[5 out of 5 stars]
I saw this movie at a screening where it was introduced as a film embodying French cinema 'without setting it in France or the use of the French language'. That remark was met with confusion from the audience but it couldn't have been any truer.
MUSTANG is set in a Turkish village about five sisters growing up in a society that actively represses their power as women. It recalls two other exquisite films released this year, both French: GIRLHOOD and BREATHE. It's important to note that all three films are directed by women. You can tell. These stories are told with assured femininity. The kind that doesn't feel like it's scrutinised under the male gaze.
The girls, no matter their circumstance, seem free in front of the camera. Their bodies are filmed not out of exploitation or sexualisation but out of ownership. This is conveyed immediately in MUSTANG's opening scenes.
It's summer. The sisters leave school and run to the beach. They play and they laugh. The first thing you notice is their hair. Free flowing, beautiful, carefree. Erguven films them with a delicate touch. The soft light makes the young girls glow. There's a dreaminess to the cinematography. The camera moves with lightness through the spaces as if it had wings.
The sisters, however, are anything but light or delicate. The images are counterbalanced with a strong feeling of rebelliousness. An exposure of the underlying strength and ferocity of the feminine. This is written in the script and executed by the naturalistic performances. When they are forced to wear "shit-coloured clothes" they rip the long hem. When an older sister is expected to serve tea to the family she is being arranged for marriage to, the youngest spits into the cups before they are served. There's a relentless expression of femininity at the face of oppression.
It's a difficult watch at times but tragedy and joy strike repeatedly with equal force. In the beginning the girls operated as if they were a single unit. An inseparable tangled sets of limbs and hair. As they get older the pack of sisters grow smaller and smaller. The sisters are separated but they are never broken apart.