Eyes on Screen are now proud to acknowledge the Lincoln Film Society. The Society is a voluntarily run, not-for-profit organisation. Each year, they organise a programme of screenings, offering the very best of contemporary world cinema. This allows beautiful films with little or no exposure to take centre stage in Lincoln. For their 2016-17 season, Eyes on Screen will be reviewing each film screened. For more information on the Lincoln Film Society, please visit their website. For the latest news, you can also like their Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter.
The following review is of Mustang (France, Turkey, Germany: 2016) – screening #2 of the Society’s 2016-17 season, shown on Friday 23rd September 2016.
Mustang is the feature length debut film of female Turkish-French director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven. It follows five orphaned sisters in a Turkish village, about to be forced into arranged marriages following the indulgence of light-hearted fun with boys on a beach.
One key thing to note about this film, as the plot summary suggests, is that it is quite harrowing, whilst also indulging in the naïve fun of the sisters. It is tonally mixed and works very well balancing the light-hearted endeavours with the shocking reality of their lives. There is a dark undertone with heavily implied sexual abuse, overly-conservative values, and struggles to break through archaic patriarchy.
As directorial debuts got, this is a very well made film. Ergüven seems to have a great handle on the ensemble and manages to give each of the five sisters a personality; an organic role to play throughout. You genuinely feel for them from start to finish, and it is not hard to be overcome with sympathy.
Whilst watching this, I was reminded of the film White God (2014); perhaps one of the most harrowing and difficult films I have ever seen. Though Mustang is not on such an extreme level, it remains to be an experience which is hard to enjoy due to the mistreatment of the girls, especially when they deserve so much more. It is a great and realistic depiction of the lacking freedom some girls experience in particular the lack of freedom which some girls have in particular First World countries.
What works so well for Mustang is how immensely captivating it is. The girls make entertaining protagonists and whilst watching, you are sat willing them on to find happiness and freedom in life. It is somewhat reminiscent of Bicycle Thieves (1948), in which you are sat praying that the protagonist finds his bike and continues his job.
As mentioned, this is a hugely powerful film with a very pragmatic approach to its commentaries and themes. A good comparison to make is if you imagine Lilya 4-ever (2002) or The Hunt (2012) to be more enjoyable films. It is an engaging clash between sisterhood and sociocultural restraints.
On a filmmaking level, it is shot very well, utilising a great landscape with an exciting colour palette. It creates a nice contrast between the visuals of beauty and the themes of control. It is an easy film to appreciate on these levels due to the intelligence behind such decisions.
Overall, Mustang is a film bursting with life, whilst pitting the vigour against a world of conservatism and outdated values. It balances its tones very well, and moulds itself into a film which stands as one of the finest foreign language features of 2016.
Written by Luke Compton