Mustang is the French submission for Best Foreign Film to this year’s Academy Awards. It’s a masterfully told story set in rural Turkey about 5 sisters, all close in age and very close as siblings, living in the home of their uncle and grandmother. Mustang is imbued with a credible sense of realism with an undertow of pathos to what could have been otherwise a magical time of self discovery for these 5 young girls, all sisters, all budding into womanhood. Instead it becomes a story of suppression dealt out of familial fears that are encased in a rigid socio-religious system that crushes youthful liberty.
Mustang is set in a small town in Turkey, where the girls are coming of age. The salient moment comes near the beginning of the film when all of the sisters are coming home from school with a group of friends. This group includes boys. They live near the ocean and find themselves playing on the beach and eventually in the water. A couple of the girls jump on the boys shoulders as they wrestled and splashing about in the water. Good innocent fun before they all returned to their homes. These girls have lost their parents and are being cared for by their grandmother and uncle. The girls return home to be welcomed by their grandmother. It isn’t long before the grandmother on hearsay accuses them of masturbating on the back of the young boys necks while wrestling. This is one of those shocking moments of “WTF?”, which says more about the mind of the grandmother than the little girls, who never considered that a possibility. From this moment on, the process of the movie revolves around an ever-increasing lock down process to sequester and suppress these young women’s independence and individuality.
In a recent article in Indiewire, “James Franco’s Movie Column: Why ‘Mustang’ is the Best Film of the Year”, James Franco addresses what he called the “Elephant on the screen” regarding Mustang’s similarity to The Virgin Suicides. That similarity has to do with suppressive religious beliefs and five girls dealing with life in their teenage years. From this premise onward, the similarity in these the stories diverge with considerably diiferent out comes. The grandmother and uncle conspire to marry off these sisters to silence them with a husband, as an overlord. Hoping the prospect of children will siphon off their youthful energies and divert their interests from higher education — keeping them from independence of thought and locked in a rigid social system.
This is a compelling story that takes you to unexpected places with keen attention to direction, establishing strong characters, with a story that is energized by stellar performances by these young women, who are peerless and vitally natural. Mustang has the metal to be a strong Oscar contender for best Foreign Film for this year’s Academy Awards.