To get the necessary information of cast members and behind-the-camera operatives on the movies we see, I resort to the internet.
In looking up Mustang (2015), I neglected to include the production year in brackets and my first-obtained reference was to the Ford Mustang, a concept car first produced under the direction of Lee Iaccoca in 1962. The two-seater original which morphed into the four-seater classic a year later* was either named after the P-51 Mustang fighter plane of World War II or in deference to the free-roaming feral horse, originally brought to the Americas by the Spaniards.
Fittingly, the possibly co-Turkish-French production of Mustang has taken its name from the horse.
Lale (Günes Sensoy) is the youngest of five orphaned sisters living with their grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas) in a coastal Turkish town, according to one cast member a thousand kilometres from Istanbul. We first see her crying in the arms of a young woman – her teacher. It is a far cry from the free-roaming spirit she possesses. In a handful of teenage siblings, she is the mustang who will rebel the most.
It is the last day before the summer holidays and the five sisters eschew the bus ride home to take advantage of the beautiful day. Frolicking with boys on the shore, their joyous antics extend to shoulder-ride battles in waist-deep water. The harmless fun will change their lives.
They have been ratted on by a nosy, old-fashioned thinking neighbour and grandmother is unhappy – their private parts have pleasured boys’ necks or some such silliness. The girls then confront and verbally abuse the neighbour and get into more trouble.
Uncle Erol (Ayberg Pekcan) then turns up to show his mother how to discipline them and the orphans’ home becomes a jail rather than the happy holiday premises it was to be.
We see this transpire through Lale’s eyes and what happens next is, in her words, “…all went to shit.”
The very Western-thinking girls become the target of Old Turkey, which clashes head on with their expectations.The girls are put through a crash course in becoming wives. Erol wants them married off as quickly as possible and insists the three eldest undergo virginity tests. Grandma is in full agreement with the marriage idea. Why this is so becomes clearer in the telling.
Director and co-writer Deniz Gamze Ergüven has made an entertaining movie about the wrong-headedness of male domination and arranged marriages in mostly Middle Eastern societies. To western eyes, the story of Mustang is not only unbelievable but brings one to grips with trying to understand a culture when you haven’t had anything like that upbringing yourself?
The hypocrisy of the male entities (embodied almost single-handedly by Erol’s role) is shameful to our eyes. Yet we see examples of the system changing. Poor crowd behaviour at a football match leads to all men being banned from the following game and only women allowed to attend. This produces one of the best set pieces in the film when soccer-fan Lale leads her older sisters on a pilgrimage to this match.
Sympathetic males such as Yasin (Burak Digit), a delivery truck driver who teaches Lale to drive, help balance the modern view but Erol’s generation hold sway.
While the oldest sister Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan) bullies her way into choosing her own husband, less-confident Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu) is pushed into an arranged marriage. Ironically, the sexually active Sonay has no trouble passing the ‘blood on the sheets’ test, so favoured on wedding night by ancient societies but Selma fails due to a physical difference in her body.
Meanwhile, Lale is on the lookout for an escape plan as she begins to understand what is going on about her. She hears Erol molesting her remaining-at-home older sisters, first Ece (Elit Iscan), who eventually kills herself, and then Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu). After this incident she works out why Grandma is so keen to marry them off so quickly: with Erol in the house all the girls are at the mercy of his jaundiced hypocrisy and deviance.
Mustang doesn’t falter for a moment and even when incidents finish and a new part of the story begins, it is seamless. The viewer’s interest is maintained throughout and several scenes, especially during the escape, are well drawn and suspenseful.
Erguven and co-writer Alice Winocour create the knowledge, perhaps only known to women, of how young girls behave and think and feel. Certainly they have made an excellent movie which made me despair of men doing wrong when they apparently know nothing else.
Film Club members commented positively on the soundtrack, especially the theme, composed by Warren Ellis, long-time collaborator with Nick Cave.
*FOOTNOTE: A Ford Mustang was used in the third James Bond-film, Goldfinger (1964).