House rules, part 1

Deniz Gamze Ergüven on Mustang, Augustine, Selin Sozen and Warren Ellis.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Mustang director Deniz Gamze Ergüven on costume designer Selin Sozen's
Mustang director Deniz Gamze Ergüven on costume designer Selin Sozen's "shapeless shit-colored dresses": "For me it looks like a western." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan star with Nihal G. Koldas, Ayberk Pekcan, Burak Yigit and Bahar Kerimoglu in Deniz Gamze Ergüven's Foreign Language Film Oscar nominated drama Mustang, co-written with Augustine director Alice Winocour. On a frosty afternoon in Chelsea, we spoke about Nick Cave collaborator Warren Ellis, who is featured in Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth's 20,000 Days On Earth, Jafar Panahi's Offside, why Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides lacks in comparison to Don Siegel's Escape From Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood, costume design, cooking lessons and the importance of blanket making.

Lale (Günes Sensoy)
Lale (Günes Sensoy)

Part allegory, part teenage empowerment, Mustang follows five high-spirited, orphaned sisters, Sonay [Akdogan], Selma [Sunguroglu], Ece [Iscan], Nur [Doguslu] and Lale [Sensoy]. Defying expectations in different ways while living with their grandmother [Koldas] and uncle [Pekcan] in a remote seaside village of Turkey, the girls, equipped with a considerable amount of confidence after an end of school term goodbye to a teacher, Miss Dilek [Kerimoglu], splash in the sea. That attracts the attention of boys and they are confronted at home when their guardians are alerted by a neighbour to the fun they shared.

Ergüven very quickly pulls the carpet out from under them with a series of intrusions and violations of their privacy on the suspicion that something untoward has occurred. Their privileges are severely curtailed inside the home as they look for a way out of their newfound predicament. Lale enlists the help of Yasin [Yigit], the local truck driver, as she becomes our guide through the journey she and her sisters embark on.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I saw you listed as an actress in Augustine.

Deniz Gamze Ergüven: I'm in one scene.

AKT: Is that how you met your co-writer?

Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan)
Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan)

DGE: No, we met at the Atelier Cinéfondation in 2011. We both had a first feature film project. Hers was Augustine and mine was another film that I didn't manage to get into production. I just acted in her film as I did in many works of others.

AKT: So Augustine was done before you two started working on Mustang?

DGE: Yeah, it was before. We weren't co-writers at that time. No, I really acted in a lot of small things of director friends.

AKT: Augustine is a fantastic film and out of that came your collaboration?

DGE: It didn't come directly out of that. She was just doing that film and we were quite a bunch of friends and non-actors who played in Augustine.

AKT: Let's start with the music in your film. Warren Ellis is very funny in 20.000 Days On Earth.

DGE: Yeah. He is great.

AKT: Is that somehow why you were collaborating with him?

DGE: In the beginning I had ideas of putting in Turkish composers - working, collaborating with Turkish composers. And in the editing room, the images were like resisting the idea of that. So I thought, okay, who can it be? And there was one scene in Mustang where you see the girls parading in their shapeless shit-colored dresses in the middle of the village.

Ece (Elit Iscan) Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu)
Ece (Elit Iscan) Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu)

AKT: Where it almost looks like a cult?

DGE: For me it looks like a western.

AKT: That's interesting.

DGE: You have this very heavy light. You have people looking behind the curtains. You almost think there's going to be balls of straw flying around the place.

AKT: Any particular western you were thinking of? Or just in general?

DGE: No, this general image felt like we were in the middle of the city and someone is going to pull a gun, you know. Just like the kind of quiet before something is going to be messed up. It felt like that. And then, that's when I thought of Warren's music. We started with that scene and then it was so obviously the perfect choice. And then I hunted Warren down to compose the original score of the film.

There was something very organic about the aesthetic of Warren's music, like the fun instruments or the viola or the flute. The viola looked like that huge house in the film. The wooden house looks like a giant viola. And then you have the flute which is so great with the wind and the freedom of these girls. It was very very obviously the right choice.

Mustang US poster
Mustang US poster

AKT: Did you always know that you wanted the circle, to start and end with Dilek [the teacher]?

DGE: Actually, the teacher idea came just a few weeks before the shooting. We had another character and then I thought, no, we're going to change that. It's in the editing room that it became so radical. That it was the first and last shot. It opened with the school and it closed with the encounter.

AKT: Did the name have any special meaning?

DGE: Dilek? Means hope.

AKT: Okay. That makes sense.

DGE: It means a wish, yeah, for me it means hope.

Coming up - Escape from Alcatraz, Offside, football, gender inequality, seeing the sea and cooking with Deniz Gamze Ergüven.

Mustang is in theaters in the US and will screen next month at the 20th anniversary edition of London's Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The film opens in the UK on May 13.

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