Although Mustang was released in 2015, it remains intensely moving and captivating and just as relevant. Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, the film tells the story of five adolescent sisters, Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur, and Lale, who live in a traditional Turkish village with their inculcated grandmother and misogynistic uncle.
The girls are playful, funny and beguiling, a dangerous threat to the conservatism upheld by their carers and neighbours. The film begins with them dancing around in the sea after school, their long damp hair plastered to their uniforms, as they go on the boy’s shoulders and splash around in the sun-speckled water.
Returning home soaked and laughing they are reprimanded by their grandmother who has heard rumours of their “obscene behaviour.” So begins an oppressive regime to keep the girls imprisoned in the house and protect their chastity, eventually turning them into desirable wives. Their freedom ripped from them, they are taught to cook, clean and sew, after being taken to the doctor's to ensure that they are still virgins. Told from the spirited perspective of the youngest sister, this is a story about the sexual repression of young girls at the brink of adolescence, eager and excited to experience the world. Instead, they are manufactured into wife material, to be deposited at the feet of men they do not love.
However, the girls resist, each in their own way, aware of their sexuality and the potential to turn it into a weapon against those who silence it. The awfulness of the situation is at odds with the beauty in the film: the mesmerising light, the Mediterranean heat, and the stylishly authentic shots of the girls drifting around their prison.
The relationship between the girls is also uplifting. Their powerful bond is made stronger by their mutual repression and they become each other’s entertainment, finding subtle ways to insult their captors. This is a sisterhood founded on nostalgia and a shared desire for freedom. The unapologetic laughter continues throughout, despite significant efforts to quiet it. What is so enchanting about this film is its ability to transcend cultural differences whilst resonating with its viewers.
Mustang depicts a culture where beauty mingles with oppression in an uncomfortable yet alluring way, and it is this contradiction that makes it so powerful.