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Film review: Mustang - sisters’ coming-of-age tale that’s painfully spot-on

Set in socially conservative rural Turkey, the story of five orphans nearing adulthood who find themselves prisoners of tradition is a subtly etched drama enhanced by a Warren Ellis soundtrack

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 11:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 11:00am

4/5 stars

The directorial debut of Turkish-French filmmaker Deniz Gamze Erguven is a painfully spot-on coming-of-age tale. The story of five orphaned sisters as they teeter on the brink of adulthood, Mustang is a tale pregnant with conflict and one that, despite its languid, naturalistic style, bristles with tension.

Set in a small, dusty Black Sea village, a 1,000km from Istanbul, the film begins innocently enough, as the girls frolic on the beach with some local boys. But when a busybody neighbour reports them to their strict grandmother (Nihal Koldas), she flips – believing their reputations and marital prospects tarnished.

French backed-Mustang, set in Turkey, has global girl-power message

Erguven and co-writer Alice Wincour swiftly establish the dynamic: adult versus adolescent, tradition versus modernity, marriage versus freedom. While Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan) is the eldest, it’s the youngest, Lale (Gunes Sensoy), who encourages her siblings to slip out and attend a soccer match. This leads to further restrictions – with bars installed on the windows, courtesy of their equally volatile Uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan).

As Lale says in her occasional but potent voiceover, “the house became a wife factory”, the girls all taught spousal duties while young men are invited over to be paired off with girls. Coaxing fine performances from her teenaged cast (only Elit Iscan, who plays middle sister Ece, had any prior experience), Erguven perfectly captures that moment where barely registered sexuality blossoms.

True, Erol’s predatory instincts feel rather clichéd, but it’s a rare misstep in an otherwise subtly etched drama. More melancholic than melodramatic – and perfectly crystallised in the score by Nick Cave collaborator Warren Ellis – there’s much to admire here.

Mustang opens on April 28

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