Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut feature is a quietly sinister indictment of hyper-conservative life and the associated dangers, a disturbing fly-on-the-wall document that’s liable to prove both infuriating and highly disturbing for outsiders.
After a group of five young sisters walk home from school, they indulge in some seemingly harmless horse play with a group of boys, after which they’re harshly admonished by their grandmother for apparent “inappropriate contact”. After their stern uncle and guardian Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) finds out, he denies them exit from the family home without his permission, essentially imprisoning them according to his will.
To many Western audiences, the behaviour depicted in this small Turkish village will seem unquestionably like life on another planet, even a parallel dimension; young girls cannot attend football games where men are present, and sexual chastity takes precedent above all else. To prevent the purity being soiled, their family seek to marry the five sisters off as quickly as possible, taking an interest in the state of their hymens which is nothing if not unhealthy.
Ergüven’s fairly detached, unsentmental directorial approach only makes the apparent ordinariness of the rampant child abuse seem that much more disturbing, combined with an excellent ensemble cast, especially the five young actresses playing the put-upon girls, and more specifically Güneş Şensoy, who plays Lale, the youngest, most outspoken and most curious of the sisters.
Naturally the film broaches some difficult territory and the result of the girls’ sheltered lifestyle is extremely unsettling for both the girls themselves and the warped individuals “caring” for them. Ergüven similarly covers the eventuality of this powder keg thoroughly in the moment though veers away from exploitation, which is especially important when dealing with young actors first and foremost.
A chilling drama that’s all the more disquieting because Ergüven maintains such a calm head in spite of blood-boiling subject matter, Mustang tells its grim tale with heartbreaking aplomb and terrific verisimilitude thanks to its talented young cast.
Mustang is on limited release in the US and in UK cinemas May 13th