by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday May 10, 2016


Five orphaned sisters celebrate the end of the term and the start of the holiday by heading to the sea with a few male schoolmates. Fully dressed, the kids sport in the surf for a time, before wandering home and, along the way, stealing a few apples from an orchard belonging to a gun-toting man whose response to their infraction is far too intense to fit the crime. So begins the Turkish drama "Mustang."

That bit of foreshadowing sets the tone for what happens immediately after: Never content to let kids be kids, and forever intent on sexualizing every trivial thing, the town's religious conservatives have instantly begun gossiping about the girls and their loose morals. No sooner have the sisters arrived home than their grandmother (Nihal G. Kolas) is accusing them, in so many words, of being "whores." Their overbearing uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) follows suit, only with even more rage.

After that, the girls are confined to the house, forced to wear "shapeless, shit-colored dresses," and traded away, one by one, into arranged marriages.

Director Deniz Gamze ErgŁven structures the film like a jailhouse movie or a drama about the Holocaust: The girls have done nothing wrong, but they have committed the worst sort of sin simply by being born female. (In all that fire-breathing accusation, not a word is said about whether the male schoolmates were similarly acting with sexual abandon.) Still, while their options and freedom of movement is severely confined, their spirits remain high; the girls plot escapes, escapades, and hijinks of various sorts. At one point their aunts and grandmother intercede on their behalf, covering for them to prevent Erol from finding out they've snuck out to a soccer match.

But these defiant gestures at liberty and life are overshadowed by the fact that the girls are prisoners in their own home, not just to the bars Erol installs on the windows but also to religious conventions that regard all women with suspicion. The eldest, Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), has the presence of mind to insist on marrying the man of her choice, but the second-oldest, Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), isn't so lucky. Ece (Elit Iscan), third in line, is so psychologically distressed that she begins acting in self-destructive ways. The youngest, Lale (GŁnes Sensoy), is smart and stubborn and so unwilling to go along with the program that she fights back in every way she can imagine. Eventually, this means enlisting the help of a van driver (Burak Yigit) who seems to be a more open-minded sort, judging from his long hair.

With Turkey now so much the target of religiously-driven terrorism that Americans have been advised not to travel to certain regions of the country, ErgŁven's film feels all the more potent and timely. (Then there's the issue of how certain politicians are peddling the idea of an America governed by religious, rather than secular, law.)

This Cohen Media Blu-ray release offers the director's short film "A Drop of Water" -- a much more pointed story that tackles the same themes in the framework of an 18-minute film -- as an extra, along with an interview with the five young actresses who play the sisters. (They speak from Cannes, where they have, they excitedly share, taken a group selfie with George Clooney.) The film's theatrical trailer is also included. Best of all may be the free download card redeemable for a digital copy of Warren Ellis' moving score.

This sweet, enraging, inspiring film was a contender for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and deservedly so. Anyone with daughters, sisters, or female friends and relations of any sort needs to see this film and ask whether the female half the human race really needs, or benefits from, the "protection" of the male half.


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Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.