I got the chance to catch this in a one-time screening at Alliance Francaise which is the french school that I have night classes at. Mustang will have you hooked from start to finish.
An underlying dissent with male hegemony,especially in culturally repressed societies, is the very heart and soul of the film. I found Deniz Gamze Erguven’s film quite encompassing in female empowerment,ranging from taking humourous jabs at the subject matter to the surprising shifts in tone. But most of all, Mustang is a throbbing picture of how social norms imprison us, more so for females, and the ensuing rebellion against such injustices.
This one was quite a knockout. Among all the good things you can praise the film for, Mustang’s most defining aspects come from it’s style. Mustang’s tonal change can be quite shocking. A tragic turn escapes your anticipation because Mustang drops the ball when least expected…but more on this later. For the most part, I really enjoyed all the witty ripostes and jokes that the five sisters occasionally make. The film might have been about something serious but it never forgot to indulge in satirical humour and genuinely hilarious moments. Scenes where the second sister looks lovingly at her boyfriend from her window pans out to show the youngest one, in turn, looking almost embarrassed by her sisters amorous antics. There’s alot of irony as well. In the build-up to the climax, the youngest sister wryly condemns the tradition of ‘playing hard to get’ before getting married – After one of the sisters is already engaged and the whole family is anxiously preparing for the marriage ceremony, she comments ,”Oh so now we’re desperate?!” The whole theatre erupted in laughter many times throughout the course of the movie but not without knowing the gravitas behind the comical disses and critique. Mustang balances drama and comical moments evenly I would say, which made it that much more lively.
Mustang is beautiful, bold, and multi-faceted. Erguven’s a woman as well so what we’re getting on screen, especially with the synergy of the five sisterly actors and energetic script, is perhaps a very accurate view of a woman’s struggles in the world. Mustang is Erguven’s definition of conservative customs, enforced over and over again by even women, more specifically by motherly figures as much as the males. Indeed, the grandma in the film is possibly the least ‘active’ character and also the most impactful one. Put in her place by the very same patricarchal forces, her inaction is much cause for concern and enforces the sexual oppression that her grandchildren face. One comical scene in the film shows her apparently shocked that her children have somehow escaped into the public eye and she gets so riled up that she goes to great lengths (causing much destruction in the process!) to shield her grandchildren. Or is she just trying preserve a warped notion of reputation? Erguven’s film never explicitly states anything. But the film shows alot and it’s clear we’re seeing a ferocious grilling of chauvanist customs and puritanical decorum. The film’s darker and more subtle scenes, although they didn’t last long enough, highlighted the double standards of purity in ways enforced by the constant use of white clothing. This one’s pretty interesting so I’ll leave it up to your own interpretation when you’ve seen it.
Erguven’s work may be near flawless and that’s certainly a plus. After all, a director being passionate is one thing but conveying that passion is another. She’s done both and that’s an achievement in it’s own right; Something which wins me over totally. But for fear of spoiling the film, I’ve refrained from talking about Mustang’s greatest quality – The sisterly five. Watch Mustang and you’ll know exactly how their fight for sexual liberty in a habitus that increasingly encroaches upon their freedoms is something so brave and moving. The writing team behind the film did an especially great job mirroring their sexual/culural imprisonment with their house confinement, worsening with the removal of devices that connect them to the outside world, and subsequently ‘suffocating’ the girls with grilled up windows. But the rather unknown cast shone well enough to stand out amongst Mustang’s artistic achievements. Their on-screen camaraderie and individualistic personas had me rooting for them all the time, in whatever predicament they were in.
I can’t honestly see how one could dislike the film. This year hasn’t been great so far, I’ve seen films which have disappointed me starting with a shallow ode to hollywood to one about a high-flyer’s existential
transcendance garbage. I am so glad that I got to watch something true for once…something that wasn’t pretentious in the least bit…something that got the whole crowd laughing and crying and constantly rooting for the team. The film is set in Turkey and it’s probably one of the more secular countries in her region compared to the likes of Syria etc etc. But where the film is set isn’t really the point. Mustang unifies the experience shared by many in a plethora of societies and enclaves. If there’s one criticism about the film (definitely not about it’s message), it’s that I just wished some scenes could stay on for a while longer – It’s impact could have been greater. Nevertheless, Erguven’s talented film-making and the heart in her script, along with the robust and cohesive acting, makes for an impactful film about the devastating effects of female oppression. With a big hearted approach and an uncompromising skewering of sexism, Mustang reminds us all that fighting for one’s freedom is as important as fighting for our lives.
Rating: 9.5/10 Mustang is the french film nominated for Best Foreign Film in the recent Oscars.