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Wednesday, May 18, 2016


The nominees for the last group of Best Foreign Film nominees for the Oscars are starting to come out on DVD. I've already seen Son of Saul, and next up is Mustang, which though set in Turkey and in Turkish, was the French submission.

It is a distinctly feminist film and by a woman director, Deniz Gamze Erguven, that details the stifling lives of young women in provincial Turkey. Five sisters, ranging from about seventeen to twelve, live with their grandmother and a menagerie of aunts and uncles, with one very stern fellow, Erol, being the boss. As the youngest narrates, "Everything was fine, until one day it all turned to shit." That line can probably be used in any film.

That is when they decide, on the way home from school, to play in the sea (the Black Sea, I'm figuring) and get on some boys' shoulders to play that game where you try to knock each other off. They don't take their clothes off, not even their shoes. But they are none-the-less disciplined by their outraged relatives, who find it disgraceful that they would rub their parts against a boy's neck. Here we see what life is like for a teenage girl in such a place--they are given virginity tests by the local clinic.

They are stopped from going to school, and the grandmother institutes domestic training, what the youngest calls a "wife factory." Later, when they sneak out of the house to attend a football match (one aunt prevents Erol from finding out by knocking out the power to the entire village so he can't see them on TV) the grandmother starts marrying them off. The oldest gets to marry her boyfriend (she admits she kept her virginity by having anal sex) but the second-youngest is married off to someone she doesn't even know.

The tension builds, as the remaining girls are locked up like prisoners. The youngest girl is the most rebellious, learning to drive on the sly and longing to go to Istanbul, which to her seems like Oz. We get hints of the uncle's inappropriate conduct with one of the sisters, and then their is a tragedy. Finally two of the girls resist and make a fateful decision.

Mustang is a well done film, but mostly it is just sad that young women in many places still are allowed to make no decisions about their lives, and that medieval traditions still hang on (after a couple marry, it is customary to bring out the wedding-night sheet to show blood, verifying the wife's purity). I went on IMDB and was interested to read what Turkish people thought. Some hated the film, but for reasons no American would pick up on--the girls had various accents, and other niceties like that, but some liked it for being accurate in its theme.

None of the performers are known to U.S. audiences but I would like to signal out Güneş Şensoy as that youngest daughter. In an interview as part of the extras, she is revealed to speak perfect English, so perhaps she has a future in Western films.

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