On the last day of school, five orphaned Turkish sisters romp in the sea with some boys, then all kinds of repressive hell breaks loose. But if you think Mustang plays like a typical tale of Old Country patriarchy gone wild, you’re in for some delightful surprises.
Even at its most dire — and unjust — terrible things happen to these girls. Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut feature has subversive exuberance to burn. The sisters have a lot of fun getting around efforts by their traditionalist grandmother and simply awful uncle to make their home a prison and turn them into proper and still virgin commodities to be married off as quickly as possible.
The film’s five young actresses present a totally persuasive, united sibling front against oppression while maintaining each of their characters’ individuality. Sometimes, they even inspire some older women in their village, who have internalized the culture’s sexist attitudes, to come around and secretly abet their youthful “outrages.”
It’s the youngest sister, Lale — played by extraordinary charismatic tween Günes Sensoy — who steals the movie and our hearts with her kid-logical determination to prepare an escape before all of the girls are resigned to their fates.
While the older ones can be just as cunning as baby sis, Lale has the tactical advantage of focusing that energy without hormonal distraction. Perhaps because she’s a soccer nut, Lale ultimately proves to be a strategic genius; or maybe, offscreen, she’s read The Art of War and has just figured out how to use the older folks’ tools against them.
This is all quite amusing except when it isn’t. The sisters variously find happy, unhappy, tragic and uncertain conclusions to their coming-of-age dramas, as any five girls would in any culture. Such palpable reality, along with the fact that these young Turks remain defiant in even their ghastliest moments of surrender, give Mustang true heft and meaning.
Ergüven’s insistence that girls just want to have fun makes for grand entertainment, yet somehow lends the film’s darker moments more credibility and impact as well.
Cast: Günes Nezihe Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan.
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven.
Screenwriters: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour.
A Cohen Media Group release. Running time: 97 minutes. In Turkish with English subtitles. Sexual situations, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Cosford Cinema, Miami Beach Cinematheque, O Cinema Wynwood, Tower; in Broward: Cinema Paradiso Hollywood.