DVD Review - Mustang

Ten, César Award nominations were given with five wins. Here in the United States, this film won the Archie Award at the Philadelphia Film Festival. It won the National Board of Review Award. It was nominated for a Spirit Award, a Critics Choice and a Golden Globe. It ultimately received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. It was submitted by France. It centers on a group of teenage girls living in Turkey. It was directed and co-written by Deniz Gamze Ergüven with the events in the film being semi-autobiographical.

The group consists of five girls ranging from 12 to 18 possibly. They live with their uncle and their grandmother in the countryside, outside or probably not that far from Istanbul. The parents of the girls have been dead for a decade, and any spouses of the uncle and the grandmother have probably been dead for that long too. Despite the country being a democracy with a diverse culture, it still is mostly a Muslim nation. Islam is the dominant religion, and the older population still has certain conservative and strict ideas.

The inciting incident is the backlash of the girls going to the beach with a group of boys and playing in the water in what could be considered revealing swimwear but nothing that Western culture would deem provocative. Their uncle and grandmother accuse them of basically being sluts when they've done nothing wrong.

The result is for the uncle and grandmother to lock the girls in the house and forbid them from doing anything until they're married. One might ask how they intend to get married if they can't leave and thus meet someone. The answer is that the uncle and grandmother would do arranged marriages where they pick the guys for the girls without any say from them.

Given that the uncle and grandmother take the girls to the doctor to ensure they've never had sex, this movie echoes Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides (1999). However, it suffers the same problems as The Wolfpack (2015), which is also about a group of siblings locked in a house and not allowed out. This film doesn't do much to distinguish the girls from one another and allow us to get to know them as individuals.

It's not like Dogtooth (2010), the Greek film also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards. Dogtooth only had two teenagers who were locked in a house. One was a boy and one was a girl, so it was easy to distinguish the two. This movie has five girls who all look similar and often act in a collective way.

Güneş Sensoy who plays Lale, the youngest of the five girls, is the only one who stands out or is distinguishable at all, but only because she is the youngest and because of which she is the last one left after all the other girls are married off. Ergüven's script does the work of carving out her character. She likes football, aka soccer. She wants to learn to drive. She's also the most opposed to the arranged marriages.

It's barely enough to prepare us for the climactic, third act, which was fun and somewhat thrilling to watch. I just wish that Ergüven had done more to build on the characters of all the other girls. The film is told from the girls' points of view, but somehow there still is a kind of detachment where I didn't always feel like I was in their heads or understood their thinking.

Another problem was how Ergüven disappeared the girls one-by-one. As the girls were married off, we never follow them as they go off with their husbands. Maybe Ergüven is making the point that once the girls are married, they lose that connection or bond to their original family or whatever made them unique or special is lost to the marriage, so there's no reason to see them again. Maybe Ergüven prefers to stay with the girls who resist arranged marriage, embracing the spirit of the titular animal, the free-roaming and almost wild horse.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and a rude gesture.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.


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