Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

"Erguven demonstrates remarkable skill in her first feature."

She's the only woman director of a narrative feature in contention for an Oscar, and much has happened to Deniz Gamze Ergüven since her explosive study of the suppression of female sexuality in a Turkish village first saw light in the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

Set in an isolated village on the Black Sea with a cast of mainly unknown actors, Ergüven's film tells of the plight of five sisters who are subjected to beatings by their uncle for “acting like whores” with a group of male youngsters at the beach after school and just before the long summer break. The girls’ parents have been dead for more a decade, leaving them to the over-protective mercies of the uncle who decides they have far too much freedom, and a reactionary grandmother.

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A neighbour reports their seaside frolic, leading to virginity tests, house curfew and the removal of unsuitable clothes, mobile phones, computers and make-up. Instead they find themselves incarcerated and groomed for marriage or betrothal to an assorted collection of eligible sons from the area. Only one of them, Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), who is the eldest, is allowed to chose her boyfriend Ekin (Enes Surum).

Co-written with French director Alice Winocour, the script shows how the strictures of this society and its morality imprison women, whose natural development is considered a cardinal sin. The girls form an intimate bond with each other in the face of the frustration evoked by an adult regime of censorship and constraint, consigning them to a house that is more like a prison. There are distinct shades of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides.

Erguven demonstrates remarkable skill in her first feature, understatedly showing the girls’ instinct for survival and self-preservation against the oppression. It is shot in a naturalistic style with most of its power deriving from the sensitive observation of the characters rather than pursuing a purely feminist agenda.

After a first half that sets the scene and explores the relationships between its youthful protagonists, the second half moves into more tragic and dramatic territory.

Filmed in Turkish, this debut feature is a French co-production which explains its choice as France’s submission for the Oscars as Best Foreign Language Film. It has also attracted a recent batch of César nominations.

Mustang is on release in UK from 13 May, Germany from 25 February, Sweden 4 March, Finland 18 March and Poland 1 April. It came out in US in November.

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2016
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Coming of age story about five Turkish girls.
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Amber Wilkinson ****

Director: Deniz Gamze Erguven

Writer: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour

Starring: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan, Tugba Sunguroglu, Ilayda Akdogan, Nihal G. Koldas, Ayberk Pekcan, Bahar Kerimoglu, Burak Yigit, Erol Afsin, Suzanne Marrot, Serife Kara, Aynur Komecoglu, Serpil Reis, Rukiye Sariahmet

Year: 2015

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Turkey, France, Qatar, Germany

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