Monday, November 16, 2015

An Impressive Debut of a Turkish Woman Filmmaker, Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Mustang (2015) - Ergüven
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The school's out for the Summer, but for the 5 luminous protagonist orphan sisters, the indignity of being virgin brides in a 'wife factory' has just begun. After some innocent water splashing horseplay with the boys on the beach, they become prisoners in their own home. It was a neighbor woman in (in the girls' own words) "shit colored traditional garb" who informed their grandmother that they were acting indecently with the boys. The panicked grandmother locks them up in the house but still shields them from their brutish uncle's fury who is even more conservative. You see, according to Lale (Günes Sensoy) the youngest of the sisters who narrates the film, Istanbul might be about 'a thousand miles away', but the small coastal town they live in is about a thousand years backwards in terms of women's rights.

First, the older three, Sonay, Selma and Ece, are milled over to the hospital to see if their hymens are intact. The metal grates go up over the windows and the girls' possessions which might lead them in to perversion (a TV, phones, colorful clothes, books) are locked away. Shit colored formless dresses, cooking and cleaning lessons follow, and the girls are bored to death.

But this imprisonment provides some sun soaked, blissful playtime among girls and give them opportunities to get out of those dresses and lounge in their colorful underwear. They also sneak out every chance they get. They even end up hitching a ride to see a soccer game (for the women-only spectators game of course) and appear on TV screen to their grandma's horror.

They are hurriedly trained and clothed into arranged marriages. After the two eldest get married off- Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan) to the love of her life (by threatening to scream in front of the family guests), more resigned-to-fate Selma (Tugba Sungroglu) to some stranger, whom she 'will grow to love', it's Lale who starts seeing the indignity of the whole situation. It's only matter of time that it will be Nu (Doga Zeynep Doguslu) and her turn. Before it's too late, they need to escape!

Mustang is not as politically pointy as Jafar Panahi's Offside and doesn't point finger directly at the traditions in some Middle Eastern regions per se, but things are pretty obvious how absurd the situation is. First time director Deniz Gamze Ergüven has the light touch even when things get dark. And it gets very dark at times. The film thematically and spiritually shares lot in common with Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides (which was also a debut film by a young female director).

The third act seems to lose its organic feeling and magic of the first 2/3rds but that's only a minor quibble. It's a beautifully realized film about being a young female in a very conservative society. It's also good to see beautiful Elit Iscan of Hayat Var (My Only Sunshine) making an appearance as Ece, the defiant middle child. She hasn't aged a bit!

Mustang is the French Submission to the 2016 Academy Awards. It hits US theaters on November 20th, 2015