When I watch films at home, I often stop, pause, rewind, rewind again, take a Facebook break to clear my head, and eventually come back to the film.
I did the usually pussyfooting with Mustang. But I eventually realized that spending time with this film was like being on a date with a really, really nice woman who quickly developed into being the love of my life. I should’ve listened more and been more attentive.
Mustang is the story of five sisters rebelling against oppression.
The girls’ parents left many years ago, leaving them to live with their grandmother. In the opening scenes of the film, the girls play with a group of boys at a beach after school. When their innocent fun is misinterpreted by their grandmother, she reacts like Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk. She’s infuriated. The girls have cast shame on their family and with the help of their uncle, she imprisons them, forbidding them to leave the house. It’s now their grandmother’s duty to turn the girls into good, little Turkish women and marry them off.
If we use mustang as a verb, it means to round up wild horses, especially in order to sell them illegally to slaughterhouses. The sisters of Mustang aren’t having any of that. They are wild because they are free. The young girls are movingly played by Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan (My Only Sunshine) and Ilayda Akdogan.
Despite their imprisonment, the sisters find moments of abandon and passion while plotting their escape. They are pillars in the pentagon of sisterhood.
The last time I felt this moved by a film, was the first time I watched Do the Right Thing, which is my favorite film of all time. I couldn’t believe what I had witnessed. I had never seen such an honest portrayal of Blacks in America. It kept igniting fires in my mind. The memory flashes were small, like the colors that bled on the hot summer Brooklyn day, or the look on Rosie Perez’s face when she said something cool and venomous to Mookie.
Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven made her directorial debut with the Turkish film Mustang. She was the only woman to be nominated for an Oscar (Best Foreign Language Film) in 2015. Despite Mustang receiving critical acclaim around the world, Turkish audiences have lashed against it. Ergüven says of the response,
“People’s relationship with fiction and reality and the connection between the two is interesting, and surprising. In my generation, every girl knows what I am talking about. But in my mother’s generation, they regard it as fiction. There are some things they just can’t see, perhaps because they have no distance.”
Her film is utterly striking because it is intimate and natural. It has no glitz or glamour. The story unfolds so honestly. It’s like watching kids simply grow up. There is silence. There are sounds of moans filled with emptiness, moans of darkness and dread. It’s easy to imagine how confronting this stark portrayal would be for those who choose not to see Mustang’s themes in their own lives.
I watched Mustang back to back. I finished it and then began again. I’ve never done that with any film in my life.
My memory flashes of Mustang are the little things. The countenance of Ece, the third eldest sister, eating her biscuits, filled with emptiness, like a well of infinite darkness and sadness. Hair blowing in the wind of dreams filled with the ghosts of the sisters’ freedom.
It’s as if the story of Mustang is an eternal song of spiritual captivity, suffering, and wonderful release. It isn’t a film. It’s one breath, rushed in the lungs of humanity, waiting to be exhaled forevermore.