MPAA Rating: PG-13 | Rating: ★★★★
Release year: 2015
Genre: Coming-of-Age, Drama, Foreign Director: Ergüven

In a cinematic year filled with excellent stories about young women growing up–Girlhood, Inside Out, Stations of the Cross, etc.–Mustang is the best coming-of-age film in 2015. Five sisters in a small seaside village in Turkey navigate the storm and stress of adolescence in a patriarchal culture. The sisters each have their own unique personalities and gifts, yet move and live as one, a united front against the crushing weight of cultural expectations. The theological word that comes to mind is perichoresis, the term describing the intertwining relationship of the Trinity. The Greek meaning can be translated “rotation” or “dance,” a relational movement. The triune God is three-in-one; the sisters of Mustang are five-as-one.

The girls of Mustang are raised by their grandmother and uncle–their parents are long deceased–in an environment of captivity and cultural norms. Propriety doesn’t mix well with these girls, who embody words like “moxie” and “spunk.” Their flirtation with boys and exuberant spirits clash with the expectations of what it means to be a “good” girl. They love soccer, and find a way to escape their home and make it to an all-female soccer game in the city. The grandmother and uncle respond by creating a prison for these girls, adding bars and locks to the windows of their hillside home, followed by setting up arranged marriages. The narration speaks about the house becoming a factory for making them good wives and mothers, teaching them how to sew and cook and wear the correct clothing. These marital arrangements can feel strange and oppressive to Western eyes, and perhaps that’s exactly what filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven wants us to see. The oppression of patriarchy can lead to devastating consequences. The younger generation won’t stay behind literal and cultural bars forever.

Mustang is drawing comparisons to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, as both films focus on a group of sisters growing up in a conservative and repressive family/cultural system. But to reduce Mustang as a Turkish Virgin Suicides would be unjust; it has its own unique style and narrative elements, and offers its own perspective on feminism, womanhood, cultural systems, and growing up. If anything, it’s a far more hopeful portrayal due to the exemplary performance by the five sisters, particularly the youngest, Lale (portrayed by Güneş Şensoy). Lale’s fierce determination and independent spirit offer a prophetic vision of the future: oppressive systems will not remain the same when the Lales of the world are in charge. The film is told from Lale’s perspective as she quietly narrates key moments; she is the voice and heart for the sisters. Mustang is funny, sympathetic, intense, heartbreaking, and inspiring, just like this intertwining dance of sisterhood.

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