School's out! It's a hot day, so you, your siblings and schoolmates head down to the beach to cool off in the sea, muck about and amble home, you even scrump some apples from an orchard and get into a bit of bother with a grumpy old man. Just your everyday tale of teenage school children… except that we are in modern day Turkey.
Mustang is the compelling story of five orphaned teenage sisters, who have lived with their grandmother for a decade in a large and remote house in rural Turkey. The girls are Nur, Ece, Selma, Sonay and the youngest Lale (Güne? ?ensoy), who is maybe 12, small, into football and picked on. All are hauntingly beautiful and elegant.
Key to this film's amazing strength are the relationships as depicted by Güne? ?ensoy, Do?a Do?u?lu, Elit I?can, Tu?ba Sun Guro?lu, and Ilayda Akdo?an – the 5 girls who play the sisters – only one of whom had ever acted before.
The family is not poor, but it is conservative and the older generation is sensitive to the criticisms of nosey village neighbours. So, when it is reported that the girls have been seen in the sea (with their clothes on) on the shoulders of a group of local boys– the immediate (and initially comically bewildered) inference is that they have been 'pleasuring themselves' and so all hell breaks loose!
Granny is mortified and so shocked that she begins to pull each girl into the front parlour in order of age for a beating; until that is the youngest child, Lale, a natural subversive, runs outside to break up and set fire to some furniture because their arses had been in contact with it.
This cues the arrival of their uncle, the reptilian Erol, a bachelor who comes to live at home in order to visibly assert patriarchal authority (plus he's a bully and a brute). The girls' behaviour is judged to have been the result of their grandmother's failure to do a proper job; the girls are dangerous and out of control, sexual objects only, who need to be safely married off and so neutralised.
Such is the family's obsession with virginity before marriage that the three elder girls are subjected to virginity tests at a local hospital.
Superb cinematography and acting capture the tactile intimacy of the incarcerated sisters – they sprawl and swim – only now on mattresses and blankets in the bedroom which substitute for the sea and waves, their limbs entwine, as their life choices are determined for them in the parlour over tea and sweet biscuits.
Sport is used with a sharp twist to hilariously invert the menfolk's power both metaphorically and (with an 'aunt's' intervention) literally, but while we laugh at the comedy, there remains an underlying edge of the seat tension.
The levels of repression and incarceration increase by degrees, with western clothing, phones (mobiles and landlines), computers and other liberal influences put away under lock and key; windows become barred, walls are built higher and this inexorably leads to tension, rebellion, misery and, ultimately, tragedy.
One by one the sisters are to be married off, whether they like it or not. The older girls can do little to resist the intense family pressure and social rituals which surround traditional and shockingly speedy matchmaking.
Lale is wonderfully rebellious and determined not to submit to these new restrictions, and her narration guides us as events drive to a fraught and thrilling denouement.
It's a wonderful film, beautifully made and a compelling argument against the suffocation and subjugation of women's rights and identities.
Writer-director Deniz Gamze Ergüven and her French co-writer, Alice Winocour, approach this labour of love with a light touch; the more shocking scenes are most impactful because they take place off-camera, but there is enough humour that tensions are skilfully suspended albeit momentarily only for one's anger to return the more sharply honed on the girls' behalf.