Academy Award Nominated Turkish Movie Mustang Is A Rebellion Of Sorts

Turkish-French filmmaker Deniz Gamze Erguven's Mustang deals with young girl's quest for freedom in a patriarchal conservative Turkish society writes author Anushree. 

Turkish-French filmmaker Deniz Gamze Erguven’s Mustang deals with young girl’s quest for freedom in a patriarchal conservative Turkish society, writes Anushree. 

In a regular column exclusively on Women’s Web, Anushree brings you exciting stuff to watch over the weekend, from a feminist point of view. We can promise you – no dull weekends again. You can see all of The Feminist Eye pieces here.

Open hair and wilderness floating through it. Curious minds trying to make sense of everything happening to their bodies and lives. An age where emotions fly high, where society starts building higher walls because as per society, one misstep and you lose your value in the bazaar of moral righteousness.

Women, why don’t you understand you were born to be respected only when others deem it fit to respect you? Who are you? What is your individuality? Your individuality lies in how saleable you are in the markets of marriages, else you are just promiscuous bitches not worth society’s respect, you’d be stoned to death, that is your punishment for the desire to be free.

The word Mustang, which is also the evocative title of Turkish-French filmmaker Deniz Gamze Erguven’s stirring first feature, conjures vivid images of bands of wild horses roaming the untamed American West, their manes flying and their defiant spirits resistant to being broken.

Every frame of Deniz’s “Mustang” is a rebellion. Unadulterated poignancy. Not once has Erguven resorted to dramatics. Not a single act overdone. Just a spark of rebellion sometimes is enough for a revolution to occur.

It begins with a plaintive farewell to a teacher, at the beginning of summer, by the youngest of five orphaned sisters, Lale. The viewer is subconsciously prodded into thinking whether this woman who is being bid goodbye with such emotion was the one who planted that spark of rebellion, that takes us through the end of the entire movie.

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After the emotional farewell, the sisters decide to take a walk to enjoy the sun and on their way go to the beach and get drenched with a few of their school friends. In this, they play a game where they have to climb upon the shoulders of the boys and wrestle with each other. Ages 10-15 almost, let us guess. Puberty just hitting. World averse to wild girls. Of course, this game doesn’t go down well with the villagers and after a nosy neighbour complains about the girls’ behavior, their grandmum decides to lock them up away from the school and the outside world. Thus begins the quest for freedom.

In a society where being free for a woman either means you should be married (“Jab tak yaha ho ye sab nahi chalega. Apne pati ke ghar jaogi toh karna ye sab agar vo haan bole toh.” – This will not be tolerated until you are here. Do whatever you want after you go to your husband’s house, if he does not have a problem with it!)

Or you should be dead (“ye sab karne se pehle tum mar kyu nahi gayi” – why aren’t you dead before you did all this?) – anything other than this means, you are a whore, ineligible for any respect – the wild in these girls starts getting smothered. Despite that, the viewer is surprised by the sheer complexity of one of the most evil of characters, the grandmum. She is, after all, a woman brainwashed by the patriarchy. Thus, being a greater danger than patriarchy itself can sometimes be.

Erguven depicts subtle hints of sexual abuse and disdain for queer but doesn’t venture into the details, as if she is saying that all that is as normal as it can be in a home with five adolescent sisters and a society marred with the false sense of masculinity. She also doesn’t dwell too much on the tragedy of death, as if she is trying to focus more on the push of freedom, as if freedom is what she has been rooting for, and wants us all to root for since the beginning.

There is a dwelling upon, however, the harrowing realities of virginity-tests. The gut-wrenching helplessness of a woman over the science of her hymen and the rigidity of honour bestowed upon this little membrane between her legs makes one want to puke in the face of the society that has such fragile notions of pride.

Warren Ellis’ background score provides an added impetus to the scenes, again without overdoing them or distracting the viewer. The movie was a breath of stale air, but fresh in its treatment. Which is why I believe more women should make movies about women.

Image source: a still from the movie Mustang

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