Sydney Film Festival: Mustang

Kate Young
3rd Jun 2016

The Turkish coming-of-age drama Mustang is a tale of control. As five sisters are told their budding sexuality is “lude” and shameful, they are stripped of all conscious choices as they are told what to wear (brown formless gowns “the colour of shit”), how to cook and clean, who to marry. The house essentially becomes a wife factory.

It’s the last day of school, signaling that summer has just begun and the five free-spirited sisters are celebrating their newfound freedom. Starting with a trip to the beach with male classmates, the girls splash about engaging in some innocent play. Our narrator and youngest sister Lale (Gunes Sensoy) informs us that “It’s like everything changed in the blink of an eye, one moment we were fine, then everything turned to shit”.

While at times Mustang can be quite confronting, heartbreaking and infuriating, it also comes with great warmth, humor and aspiration. One of the key scenes is when the girls sneak out to watch a soccer match that is being played to an all female audience. The aunts of the house have no idea that the girls have even fled from their cage, until they are spotted on TV. In order to stop their uncle from making the discovery the aunts stop at no means even to the point of disabling the town’s power supply.

The key element to this film is the five young actresses themselves who previously had no acting experience to speak of. But it is through their portrayal of the five siblings that we are allowed to enter their world. It is colourful and filled with life. The girls rely on their and each other’s imaginations to create a vast world in order to survive from their ever-growing prison walls. There is candidness between the actresses that seems unrehearsed and real. The film is shot like the camera has captured all these intimate and secretive interactions, making one feel like a fly on the wall.

Mustang can be described as Little Women meets The Virgin Suicides. It’s a thoroughly modern coming of age story, challenging views on what it’s like to be a modern woman growing up when you have cultural principles thrust upon you. Where women must be chaste and pure, where femininity is constantly reduced to sexuality. It’s about escaping the life ruled by gender constraints. The film is called Mustang for a reason; when you try to domesticate a wild horse it is only a matter of time before the horse is going to buck and break free.

Mustang is screening as part of the 2016 Sydney Film Festival; See screening times below. A limited theatrical release will follow on Thursday June 23rd.