France’s Academy Award submission is a film about Turkey, but “Mustang” is so singularly excellent and original that there’s no question why France would claim it.
The feature debut of French-Turkish director and co-writer Deniz Gamze Ergüven, “Mustang” refers to the untamed spirits of its five protagonists, teenage sisters living under the fretful, watchful eyes of their grandmother and uncle in a small town. After a last-day-of-school romp, the adults suspect trouble with the headstrong girl gang and clamp down on their freedom, locking them up at home. Grandma teaches them wifely duties, and she soon arranges marriages for the teens, if only to absolve herself of responsibility for them. This is seen through the eyes of the youngest and most defiant sister, Lale (Günes Sensoy).
As she watches her carefree, wild sisters forced into marriage, she plans her own escape. Ergüven uses the camera as a sixth sister, following the herd of girls as they strain against the restrictions of a home that’s become a prison. The five girls are placed together in the same frame, their floppy, coltish limbs and manes of hair piled together and indistinguishable from one another, a unified entity.
“Mustang” beautifully expresses the girls’ unbridled energy, a force that refuses to be locked up, controlled or repressed. It’s a moving portrait of sisterhood, a celebration of a fierce femininity and a damning indictment of patriarchal systems that seek to destroy and control this spirit.
MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and a rude gesture.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle Royal.