There’s something inherently striking about the title Mustang. It signifies something about the title girls, their free-spirits, billowing brown locks, continually running in a type of a herd, constantly full of life, movement and motion. But with a mustang and any other creature full of life and vitality, there’s always an opposite force looking to impede, tame and prod the spirit into some sort of submission. Because being free, being wild is constantly challenged in the world that we live in and this story is a prime example.
The film opens when what can be called little else except for a “tribe of girls” leave their school to go traipsing along the beach with a group of boys. In these moments we begin to understand quite well since frolicking, laughing and playing chicken are the same in every culture. But that’s not how their elders see this seemingly innocent act. Instead, it’s full of passion, lust and moral depravity.
In many ways, although it’s set in Turkey, Mustang plays with some of the same themes of Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides but it is a film that surges with vim and vigor rather than wistful detachment. And even though it has those aloof moments at times, they feel more personal because most of the time instead of being on the outside looking in, we’re constantly being shown the perspective of these girls, a far more frightening point of view.
Furthermore, this isn’t simply about one fundamentalist family that’s the outlier but an entire culture that holds women in a certain regard. There’s obviously something amiss in cultures that lack social mores and a sense of reality, but there’s something equally frightening in those cultures that are utterly repressed. Life is literally driven by fear and shame. Bringing dishonor and gaining the respect of your neighbors. A life like that can be nothing aside from taxing because you can never possibly measure up to the societal standards.
The television, the media, and everything else seems to reinforce exactly these points. Meanwhile, the girls go sneaking out to a football match only to miss the bus, only to hitch a ride with an unfortunate bystander who gets them there in time for the excitement.The images at the football match carry an almost infectious backbeat, hyperactive and frenetic with hair flying, hands flailing and bodies going every which way, but still every action has a consequence. Every moment of freedom is met with an equal event of restraining power.
In this case, the girls are prepped and prepared for marriage, arranged between families like a shrewd business deal to save face. Their fearful grandmother and domineering uncle think it’s the best for everyone and the girls have little say in their fate.
The youngest girl, Lale, is a tomboy, a perpetual climber but she like the others feels trapped. And they are, as first one sister than another are hitched up in a marriage. But it’s when marriage no longer becomes a joyful union but a suffocating prison of unhappiness, something that it was never meant to be at all. True, one girl gets a bit lucky, the other is utterly unhappy. Still, two down and three to go. That’s the way grandmother thinks of it.
By this point, the three remaining girls are forced to find any little piece of rebellion they possibly can whether it be snickering at the dinner table or something altogether more audacious. Grandma and uncle are unrelenting in their matchmaking and finally, Lale and the only sister she has left are at a crossroads. They must take a plan of action or resign themselves to their impending fate. You can probably guess what their decision is but that doesn’t make executing it any easier.
Mustang is certainly a cultural commentary and you get the sense that it’s a very personal work by writer-director Deniz Gamze Erguven. However, within its portrait of youth, womanhood, and marriage there are also some universal truths to be gleaned. There’s something to be said for freedom — in youth and adulthood. To take it lightly is to commit a grave error