Blog Directory CineVerse: Sisters doing it for themselves

Sisters doing it for themselves

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

One of the most compelling movies ever made about female empowerment and coming of age, Mustang, directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (her first feature film) offers an impressive cast of young non-professional actors and a narrative that elicits a range of potent emotions. CineVerse carefully evaluated this picture last week; our collective observations are encapsulated below (to hear a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What did you find surprising, memorable, distinct, or offbeat about Mustang?

  • The title is interesting, as it’s a word never mentioned in the story or given any context. We associate the word “mustang” with a free-roaming wild horse, a quality we can ascribe to the free-thinking and plucky sisters. It’s not called “Mustangs,” as in wild horses (plural), which suggests that the title refers more to Lale, the youngest sibling upon whom the tale increasingly focuses and turns.
  • Although the tension is palpable and the prospects for the sisters appear foreboding, grim, dour, and inescapable for most of the runtime, the filmmakers also carefully lighten the mood and give us moments of levity and elation, providing a pressure relief valve from time to time that keeps us from abandoning this story or the plight of the girls.
  • Mustang walks a fine line between criticism of a culture and outright condemnation of a country and creed. Without necessarily attacking the Islamic religion or Turkey as a nation, Mustang focuses on the unfairness of antiquated family values and customs that aim to keep women submissive and acquiescent.
  • The casting of the five daughters is excellent, with each actress bringing something special and idiosyncractic to each character, making each sister stand out and feel unique.

Major themes

  • The irrepressibility of female adolescence and sisterhood. Despite being subjugated, the five female siblings find joy and comfort in each other and, for the older sisters, in exploring their sexuality and femininity. Yet, they are individually more increasingly vulnerable as each older sister departs the house. By the last act, we feel how desperate the situation becomes for the youngest two after three of their older sisters are peeled away from them.
  • Rebellion against an oppressive patriarchal society that seeks to curtail any female agency or personal expression.
  • Hope for the next generation. Each sister experiences a different fate: the oldest, Sonay, embraces her arranged marriage life; Selma, the second oldest, numbingly and begrudgingly accepts this depressing destiny; the middle sister, Ece, kills herself rather than submit to a life of servitude; Nur, the second youngest, inspired by her strong-willed youngest sibling Lale, fights back. Lale proves that she’s sharp and resourceful, engineering an escape plan that may just work. We are encouraged by her drive, quick wit, and determination, and can feel optimistic that she and Nur will avoid any of the outcomes of their older sisters.
  • Fairy tale morality. This story functions as a modern-day fairy tale, allegory, or children’s fantasy in which five free-spirited princesses are locked away in a tower and seek escape. One reading is that they are threatened by a witch/evil stepmother, personified by their grandmother, and by an ogre, embodied by their uncle. Only the most cunning and ambitious of the princesses will harness the magic and the moxie needed to flee this evil kingdom.
    • Consider, too, how the sisters are symbolically “cast out of the Garden of Eden” when they are admonished for eating the fruit in the orchard.
    • Michael McDunnah with The Unaffiliated Critic, wrote: “Rather, what we see throughout the film is an attempt to expel these girls from the earthly paradise of their own natural states, from autonomy over the bodies that are and should be their birthrights. With its particular setting, Mustang presents an extreme version of the forces that seek to control and commodify female bodies, but those forces are familiar to every culture, and the struggles of the girls will, I think, resonate with every woman.”
    • Jonathan Romney of Film Comment wrote: “If Mustang is ultimately a fairy tale, an affirmative girl-power myth, then fair enough: these sisters are Rapunzels, doing it for themselves; a five-girl stampede.”

Similar works

  • The Virgin Suicides
  • The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  • Persepolis
  • Dogtooth
  • The Circle
  • One. Two. One
  • A Wedding
  • Bliss
  • Thirteen
  • Room

Also directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven

  • Kings
  • Two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale

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