Mustang works by not only being a different coming of age story that Western audiences are normally used to but by letting you decide for yourself on its moral dilemmas instead of forcing you to hold a certain opinion. In doing so, you gain an appreciation and respect for a different culture instead of simply being grateful you weren’t in that same position.
The film centers on the lives of five young orphaned sisters, growing up in a conservative Turkish village by their grandmother (Nihal Koldas) and uncle (Ayberk Pekcan). We follow the thoughts and narration of the youngest child, Lale, played by Gunes Sensoy. It synchronously explores and challenges the expectations of female identity and roles of women within Turkish culture. Yet it does so without prejudice towards one side, which is what I think the director Deniz Gamze Erguven hopes to achieve and makes the film better.
Inherently I felt quite disheartened at some of the traditional practices seen in the film. The notion that you are expected to wed a man whom you’ve never met before in the hopes that you will eventually fall in love with, is quite different to the norm most Western audiences would expect. It’s clear the director knows this but I think he goes further in not attempting to simply shock us but just to present this ideology that’s been a tradition for centuries. I for one like this different approach. To not simply push forward an agenda but to rather let the viewer conclude for themselves on how they would feel. I only wonder how a Turkish audience would react to this film.
What I feel is missing from it being a great coming of age story, is within the development of characters for the five sisters. Don’t get me wrong, collectively they hold your interest throughout the entire movie but whom individually represent different aspects that are clear for some and not addressed at all for others. Maybe this was done intentionally since we predominantly follow the interactions between Lale with each sister and it’s not uncommon for certain sisters to associate more so than others. However even this was the case, it makes for a potential that wasn’t realized.
Instead what I’m left with, is three stark contradictions between Sonay the eldest who is promiscuous and head over heels in love; Lale who is more masculine and strives to be independent and Selma who is simply shy and that’s all. In fact, Selma, Ece, and Nur can all be narrowed down to that latter characterization which is I think what I don’t like the most about the film. We don’t really know too much about them and we never really find out. The film could have focused on using each girl to represent the different attitudes each has to the themes being expressed.
Overall I enjoyed the film and so far it’s been my highest rated film reviewed by working on the site. At 97 minutes long, it’s an enjoyable runtime that also presents quite a few comedic aspects that I’m not sure were intended to work in that way but the whole cinema was laughing at. Chances are you might be too if you see it. For me, it wasn’t as boisterous but nevertheless made me chuckle and smile during those moments. If you’re interested in gaining an appreciation of another culture and being educated in practices that are quite different to yours, I wholeheartedly recommend you check it out. After seeing it two days ago I’m still pondering on the choice of its title with several of my own reasoning’s, which is another incentive for you to see it and draw your own conclusions.