Mustang: A bittersweet coming of age

mustang “Our house became a wife factory,” Lale (Gunes Sensoy) describes when innocent fun turns to scandal in an otherwise idyllic Turkish Black Sea village. Mustang tells the story of five sisters whose world is turned upside down overnight after walking home with a group of boys from their school.

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The orphaned girls are being raised by their grandmother and callous uncle whose main concern seems to be the state of their hymens. With their freedom snatched from them overnight, they are suddenly subjected to virginity tests, imprisonment, and the prospect of being married off one-by-one.

The story is told through the eyes of the spirited young Lale, the youngest sister played by Gunes Sensoy. She gives an excellent performance, playing both a little scallywag and an intelligent young girl determined to escape to Istanbul. The beauty of the film comes from the sisters and their relationships; it doesn’t feel scripted, but rather like director Denize Gamze Ergüven has opened a window into the lives of five girls who, drawing strength from their sisterhood, are determined to push back against their imprisonment and their patriarchal force of their uncle.

As the story unfolds, the sisters’ predicament becomes more serious, to the point when Lale and here next-to-be-married sister must pull off a daring escape, to avoid the wrath of their uncle.

Mustang, Ergüven’s feature debut, has been selected as France's submission for the Oscars' best foreign-language film. A remarkable accomplishment when you consider Mustang is in Turkish, filmed and set entirely in Turkey, and stars all but one first time Turkish actresses.

While the film is sure to stir controversy, it does cast a light on the patriarchal society young girls must still endure in many parts of the world.