While it begins in a burst of lyrical exuberance with schoolchildren frolicking in surf, this knockout first feature from Deniz Gamze Ergüven builds increasing tension culminating in an edge-of-seat finale. It’s the tale of five orphaned sisters growing in sexual consciousness, and their guardian uncle and grandmother’s increasing attempts to lock down this adolescent force. In their coastal Turkish town, watchful neighbours defame the spirited girls’ purity: it’s a world where parents still bang on newly-weds’ doors demanding blood on the sheets.
So the girls are imprisoned in their sun-filled, several-storeyed house until one by one they are married off – as long as their virginity can be guaranteed. Masterfully under-told, the story rarely leaves the house, unfolding through the eyes of the youngest girl, Lale, who reaches her own brave conclusion that escape is the only option. Likened to The Virgin Suicides in its dreamy style and narrative, Mustang has a more urgent political drive, as we see several different versions of severely compromised female life. Pared-back storytelling and a bold, very present musical score (by Warren Ellis) culminate in a phenomenally emotional climax as the possibility of freedom diminishes.
Mustang depicts a modern patriarchal Turkey with a deeply enculturated repression: the apparent normality of the restrictions belies their shocking violence. Ergüven operates with a light touch, however, expertly drawing the viewer into a total empathy with Lale, her diminishing life options, and one clear principle she surmises: that if you don’t fight, you die. — Jo Randerson, NZIFF 2015