Mustang

I saw Mustang, as I see most foreign language films, surrounded by baby boomers. In Ottawa, the Bytowne is really the only place to go for foreign, documentary, and most independent films. The other thing about the Bytowne: Old people love it, partly because it’s reasonably priced but also because they can ask each other “Who’s she again?” without fear of getting shushed because their neighbours were most likely wondering the same thing. So I wondered at some points whether the hearty laughter coming from the audience during this tale of female oppression was the reaction that the director was hoping for.

To be fair, I’m not at all confident that I know exactly what reaction Deniz Gamze Ergüven was going for with her debut feature. Mustang can shift tones pretty quickly and, for once, I don’t mean that as a criticism. We first meet Lale (Güneş Şensoy, who’s just wonderful) and her four sisters on their way home on the last day of school in their small Turkish village. When they run into a group of boys, it’s off to the beach to sit on their shoulders and splash each other. In a Hollywood movie, this would just be a throw-away scene for a Best Summer Ever montage but, in this time and place, it’s enough to set in motion a chain of events that are just plain infuriating. Word spreads fast about the sisters’ scandalous behavior and their livid uncle immediately pulls them out of school and keeps them home to learn to cook, clean, and be good future wives. Worried that their reputation as corrupted girls would get worse, he rushes to marry them off as soon as possible.

They’re just good kids who like to have good silly fun. To see them oppressed in the name of sexist religious fundamentalism is an outrage. Ergüven’s trick is that she has made a film that effectively captures the cruelty of the situation but is always watchable -sometimes even entertaining- and almost never unpleasant. She is as committed to portraying the girls’ resilience in the face of oppression as to the oppression itself.

There are occasional scenes of very broad comedy in which I’m sure the Bytowne crowd’s laughter was exactly what Ergüven was hoping for. In the ever-escalating battle of wits between Lale and her mean uncle, I can’t be sure. I couldn’t laugh at Lale’s increasingly clever plots to sneak out of the house. The cost to her freedom and, eventually, her safety once she’s inevitably caught made me way too nervous.

It’s a credit to Ergüven that she’s made a film that could affect audience members so differently. Mustang calls attention to gender inequality and injustice that is as hopeful as it is frustrating. Through her faith in one young girl’s fighting spirit. her feature debut is a worthy nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

 

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22 thoughts on “Mustang

  1. Brittani

    That’s interesting you mention laughter because I never would’ve guessed this was supposed to be viewed as a comedy at all based on the synopsis. It seems really heavy. Great review, I hope I can see this before the Oscars.

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    1. Matt Post author

      I know, I was surprised (and a little uncomfortable) by all the laughter but I get it. It takes a pretty light-hearted approach. It’s definitely not a comedy though.

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  2. jwforeva

    I really want to catch this asap along with all the other foreign films. They look so good. Great review, I personally think fast shifts in tone are intended and create quite interesting and powerful effects.

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    1. Matt Post author

      I agree. Shifts in tone can be a powerful device to throw the audience off balance. As long as it seems intentional and not like they didn’t even know what kind of movie to make. That’s how I felt about SPECTRE.

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  3. Courtney Small

    I hope my own daughter grows ups to have the fighting spirit that Lale does in this film. I was really taken with Mustang, watched it twice in the the past few months. While I thinks its odds of winning the Oscar are slim, from what I hear Son of Saul is the foreign film to beat (still need to catch up with that one), I am happy that the nomination is bringing much deserved attention to the film.

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  4. John Charet

    Have not seen this film yet, but I do watch a lot of foreign films 🙂 I have an unlimited number of favorite foreign filmmakers of all-time, but as far as Canadian cinema goes, If one were to ask me who my two all-time favorite Canadian filmmakers are, my response would be David Cronenberg and Guy Maddin. Their are probably other Canadian filmmakers I should check out as well though 🙂 In fact, Maddin’s most recent film entitled The Forbidden Room may it to my number 10 spot on my list of my top 10 favorite films of 2015 whereas Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars was one of my many runner ups 🙂 Anyway, you, Sean and Jay keep up the great work as always 🙂

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  5. calensariel

    Probably not one I would have considered. But now that I’ve read your review I’m going to try to see it if I shows up around here. The plot reminds me of Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splended Suns.”

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      1. Matt Post author

        Haha if spelling counted at Assholes Watching Movies, they’d never let me post anything. Oddly enough, I have never heard ofA Thousand Splendid Sons so I’m off to imdb that shit.

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  6. Pingback: Mustang | joaomarques67

  7. Pingback: Son of Saul | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

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