Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Black horses

Soha Hesham is impressed with the dark feminism of five young sisters in the Turkish film, Mustang

Black horses
Black horses
Al-Ahram Weekly

One day towards the end of the school year, five girls head to the beach after school with their male classmates. There the boys carry the girls on their shoulders as, still in their uniform, they enjoy the warm waves and engage in water fights.

Thus the start of Mustang by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, the director, writer and actress born in 1978 in Ankara, though raised in France. As an actress Ergüven is best known for her Augustine (2012). Mustang is her debut feature after two short films: Mon trajet préféré (2006) and A Drop of Water (2006), both tackling the lives of women back in Turkey.

The 94-minute feature, screened this week at Zawya, is set in a Black Sea town; and its heroines, five orphan girls brought up by their grandmother and uncle Erol (played by Nihal G. Koldas and Ayberk Pekcan, respectively) are shouted at and beaten separately on their return home, since a nosy neighbour who saw them has already told their grandmother they were pleasuring themselves on the backs of boys in the sea.

The first to receive her beating is the eldest, Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), though the differences in age are so small as to be insignificant: the girls range from puberty to adolescence. On his arrival Uncle Erol is finally dissuaded from beating the girls again by the grandmother, but he insists on subjecting them to virginity tests instead – Ergüven’s brusque take on the demonisation of female sexuality at a very young age.

The young actresses playing the sisters light up a flame of visceral talent, especially the youngest, Lale (Günes Sensoy). After the virginity tests there is even more suppression. The grandmother unplugs the phones. She throws away all their tight clothes, computers and makeup. She even installs new locks and higher fences. As per their prescribed role in an Islamic society, the girls are expected to make good housewives – nothing else. Now that they are to stop going to school, the grandmother arranges for them to have cooking and sewing classes given by a group of older women from the neighbourhood.

In spite of all these restrictions, the girls find ways to escape their imprisonment in the house. The elder sister Sonay climbs down a water pipe off the window one night to spend some time with her boyfriend. For her part Lale devises a plan for the girls to attend a football match to be held only for women – only to be spotted on television by their grandmother, who cuts off the house’s power supply before Uncle Erol notices and even sends a friend of hers to demolish the main cable of the village. But now even the windows are barred.

Soon enough, the grandmother starts to invite families – with eligible sons – to the house. Sonay refuses the groom, Osman (Erol Afsin) and tells her grandmother that she is in love with Ekin (Enes Surum) and will no one else. And so the second eldest sister takes her place and leaves the house while the guests are offered the traditional coffee. In the meantime the grandmother tells Sonay to inform Ekin that he has to visit them and ask for her hand, and she ends up marrying Ekin on the same night. While Sonay is happy, however, Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu) is devastated. She is seen drinking the leftover alcohol and weeping in a corner. In the buildup to the marriage, Sonay confesses to Selma how Ekin and she had sex but in such a way as to preserve her virginity.

Now it is the turn of Ece (Elit Iscan), and the two youngest sisters Lale and Nur are monitoring the patriarchal procedures implemented with every new marriage as if waiting their turn to die – which, as it happens, is the fate that befalls Ece when it is claimed that she had an affair with a younger boy and she is killed by a stranger in her own house. When it is Nur’s turn the two remaining sisters decide to make their final break while the groom and his family are at the front door. They lock themselves inside the house, leaving everybody else outside.

Lale has already been making use of every detail that could help with her final escape, like her story with Yassin (Burak Yigit), the truck driver whom she met several times on the road and from whom she learned to drive a car. She knows every key in the house and how to find the hidden phone. She has money and other necessities hidden in her grandmother’s room for the right moment...

Mustang won the Label Europa Cinemas Award and was nominated for the Golden Camera and the Queer Palm at Cannes Film Festival. It also won the Audience Choice Award at Chicago International Film Festival and the European Discovery of the Year Award at European Film Awards, and was nominated for the European Film Award at the same festival. Mustang won the Golden Duke at the Odessa International Film Festival, the Grand Prix and a Special Jury Prize at Sakhalin International Film Festival, received the Best Screenplay Award and was nominated the Bronze Horse at Stockholm Film Festival, won the Audience Award at Thessaloniki Film Festival and five other awards: the Audience Award, FIPRESCI, the Silver Spike, Youth Jury Award and the Pilar Miro Award at Valladolid International Film Festival.

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