Fairy tales are told again and again, reappearing through the ages under different names and in different places. The ‘innocent children held captive’ is a universal trope that varies only in the type of warden (like ugly stepmother, wicked witch or crazed family) and type of prison (like dungeon, tower or home). We find it in Mustang (2015), a film that modernises the tale with several layers of imprisonment that include the medieval moral codes of Turkish society and the disempowerment of women through arranged marriages. The irony of Mustang’s title is that this beautifully filmed story is not about captivity but about the wild spirit that cannot be tamed.
Set in a traditional Turkish village, five orphan sisters set home on the last day of school and stop to frolic innocently with some boys on a beach. They live with their grandmother who is panicked into thinking they have behaved immorally and that their marriage prospects are at stake. The girls argue their innocence but an uncle is enlisted to help discipline and control them. He brings strict male-dominated repression into the mix: the home is fortified with bars on windows, and phones and computers taken away. While Turkish women have been suppressed throughout the ages, these strong-willed and defiant sisters are bonded as one and tension escalates to the point of violence. Inside their prison we see several delightful scenes of five bodies loosely entwined, lying on a bed or the floor, laughing, chatting, tussling playfully: a fun-loving picture of sisterhood full of promise for the vibrant young women they have a right to be. The story unfolds through the eyes of the youngest who sees her sisters dragged one by one to their fates until the final pair of mustangs run for their lives.
The gentle realism and warm colour palette of the cinematography exudes sympathetic storytelling, with misty dream-like lighting portraying the intimate humanity of these girls in stark contrast to the cruel constraints of their lives. The existence of the girls’ computers hints at a current timeframe which makes the film a portrait that is contemporary and relevant everywhere. This film is both a profoundly political statement and a poetically beautiful story about femininity and feminism. Despite the gloom, it ends with measured optimism and hope for the future.
Director: Deniz Gamze Erguven
Stars: Gunes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan