This wonderful, Oscar-nominated debut by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, a Turkish director based in France, suggests one of those playful novels – The Virgin Suicides springs to mind – that employ a first-person plural narrator.
Mustang concerns the tribulations of five sisters suffering everyday oppression in a rural corner of Anatolia. Ergüven does find individual voices for each character, but the lasting impression is of an inventive hive mind working upon a flock of ever-scurrying bodies. They press heads together into a star and look hungrily down at the camera. They tumble into the hall like canal water unleashed through lock gates. If the story were a little less sad, the film’s delicious energy would be easier to celebrate.
We begin with the girls, orphaned some years previously, making for the beach on the last day of term. Their harmless frolics with boys land them in trouble when a local busybody reports the mild lasciviousness to their tyrannical uncle and traditional grandmother. An increasingly repressive regime is instituted that begins with the confiscation of all modern technology and – following an illicit trip to a football match – leads on to the erection of iron grids over windows. Then their guardians begin marrying them off to the local dullards.
There are genuine horrors here. The scene in which one of the girls must show the family bloody sheets on her wedding night plays like something out of Carrie. But Mustang is generous to the girls' granny, who, though tied in to repressive traditions, always shows affection for her charges. This rural society regards each young woman as a burden that much be managed with the least degree of fuss.
Reform seems impossible. But escape to the big city – Istanbul has the same allure that Moscow offered in Three Sisters – remains a dream that seems almost within reach. The film's conclusion does strain credulity a little, but, swollen with some gorgeous music by Warren Ellis, the final scenes still stir the soul. Essential.