An incandescent, acutely observed portrait of defiance and sisterhood…
Mustang is one of those rare pleasures which come round from time to time – a simple story richly told. The basic narrative here is straightforward; five young sisters are imprisoned within their own home after playing with boys at the local beach and supposedly tarnishing their marriageability. Their home transforms into a wife-making factory and the girls find that they have to work increasingly hard in order to preserve their fierce desire for freedom. Much like Koreeda’s recent Our Little Sister¹ (although his sisters live in polar opposite conditions to Mustang’s) it’s in the detail where the film finds its strength; with the cast’s lively performances colouring Ergüven and Winocour’s insightful script we are treated to a portrayal of sororal relationships which is as energetic as it is keenly felt.
For all the various pains and horrors inflicted upon our five sisters the film manages to temper that with a curiously dreamlike, and often jubilant, atmosphere. We never stop believing that there is hope for our heroes and that they can pull through their imprisonment, forced marriages and other horrors. Even as individual members of the group loose faith we cling to hope because the film is filtered through the perspective of the youngest and strongest sister. The young actress (Günes Sensoy) who leads us through the film portrays her character’s fighting spirit with such conviction and nuance that we cannot help but believe, as she does, that their situation can be overcome. Make no mistake, her character is the titular Mustang and as an actress Sensoy displays a skill which seems disproportional to her age. One can only hope that she finds her way onto our screens again as she is a genuine discovery within a film filled with strong performances.
Haunting, euphoric, piercingly painful, intimate and perceptive… Mustang is all of these things. It’s a film concerned with difficult subject matter which is handled right and, if you are afraid that this is going to be an emotional slog made up of one dark scene after another then you are incorrect. Sure I walked away from the film emotionally stricken however I also still remembered the film’s defiant spirit, and that is a truly treasured gift.
Mustang is one of Rumsey’s picks of the best films of the year. Check back at the end of the year for our top ten list!