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House Arrest: Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang (2015) – DVD review

July 7, 2016 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

A superb political fable – virtually a modern-day fairytale – that’s all the more hard-hitting because of the delicacy of its directorial approach.

1 Mustang

Mustang
(Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 2015)

Sometimes, the best metaphors are the most obvious one.  In Mustang, Deniz Gamze Ergüven tackles the oppressive patriarchy that drives conservative Turkey by showing that cultural sexism and misogyny in full flow.  But the story of five orphaned sisters kept under house arrest by a tyrannical uncle and judgemental family members is so piercing, so bursting with vitality, that it succeeds in becoming a societal fable.

It’s a study of empowerment and escape, in which the anger is sublimated by the sheer verve of transgression, as the sisters – notably the youngest, Lale (captivatingly played by newcomer Güneş Şensoy) – test the boundaries of their literal and metaphorical prison and find comfort in each other’s company.  The decision to tell the story from a childlike perspective means that the bleaker elements (from arranged marriages to abuse) are observed at one remove.  It doesn’t make these moments any less challenging, but it stops the story sliding into trite agit-prop.

Instead, the focus is disconcertingly uplifting – what stick in the mind are the scenes of solidarity, from the opening sequence of seaside frolics (the impetus for the house arrest) to a daring jailbreak to watch a football match.  Ergüven gives these moments a sun-dappled ecstasy but what’s really impressive is that she treats the scenes inside the home in the same way.  Even in an enclave, the girls’ spirits are untouchable and the film’s freewheeling grammar – breathlessly fluid as the camera bounces in and out of rooms, swooping in to the girls’ games and out of windows as they plot their next sabbatical – is intoxicating.

Some critics have remarked on similarities with Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides and, yes, you can easily find them.  Yet if Ergüven shares Coppola’s sense of style and mood, she’s more ambitious, capable of upping the stakes where needed – the final act is as taut as any recent thriller – and capable of showing empathy even with the villainous older women who guard the sisters, victims themselves and cautionary tales of what might be.

The biggest difference is that, where Coppola opted for none-more-cool Air for her soundtrack, Ergüven chooses Bad Seed Warren Ellis, no less of a hipster’s choice but one whose lilting score strikes the timelessness that this film strives for and deservedly achieves.

Mustang is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 11 July.

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