Mustang: Sister Spirits That Will Not Be Broken

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Mon 16 May 2016

Mustang: Sister Spirits That Will Not Be Broken

Mustang is a fresh and poignant exploration of five modern young sisters' lives bridled by a suffocatingly traditionalist culture.

In a small Turkish village on the coast of the Black Sea, five orphaned sisters - Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur and Lale - are locked away from the outside world by their severe, ultra-conservative uncle when a neighbour alerts their grandmother of their "improper" behaviour while playing on the beach with male schoolmates. This leads to their immediate induction into a relentlessly domestic existence governed by patriarchal customs that hold no place in the 21st century.

It is director Denize Gamze Ergüven's feature film debut, which has been greatly received around the world and even nominated earlier this year for an Academy Award®. With its impressive balance between the personal and the social, it is easy to see why. As well as the women question, which it tackles with ingenuity, it touches on other current social issues such as depression in young people, domestic abuse and cultural tensions. It questions the place of traditions today that barricade modern-day progressions and refuse women agency over their own lives.


Within the group of sisters, a tender solidarity is portrayed - at one point, we see them heaped together in a single mound of tangled limbs and long unruly hair, like the wild horses that give the film its title. The dynamic, almost palpable connection between the actors who play them - all of whom are non-professional - could easily be mistaken for true sisterhood as they give very convincing performances. All five also deserve merit for their individual portrayals that allow each sister's distinct personality to shine through.

As the film develops, we witness their bright vivacity and intrinsic bond disintegrate as one-by-one they start to be broken in by the oppressive forces that rule over them. The uncomplicated way the narrative plays out reinforces the film's familiarly fairytale-esque storyline. From eldest to youngest, we follow each sister's experience of arranged marriage, each dealing with it in a different way: if she must marry, Sonay will scream-and-scream until her boyfriend is accepted as her groom; Selma grudgingly surrenders with heartbreaking despondence; Ece, as Lale notices, 'went along with it at
first, but then she started behaving dangerously'. The girls' fates increase in darkness, desperation and despair as they become separated from one another until Lale courageously takes it upon herself to prevent further loss and win her own freedom.


The simplicity of the tale - fuelled by tension rather than suspense - does not lessen its impact. On the contrary, it strengthens the film by rooting the spirit of innocence at its heart. We witness everything through the eyes of Lale, the film's narrator, main protagonist and youngest sister. Her authority over the story amplifies the film's celebration of youthful spirit and instills a young female perspective that is still greatly lacking in film today, despite prevalent discourse.

Some elements may feel a little too convenient, such as Lale's friend, Yasin, who is very timely and frequent in coming to the girls' rescue. Yet, instead of weakening the film's impact, this adds to its innocent charm, almost as if it is Lale's own escapist fairytale unfolding.

Just like a fairytale, there are also some rather sobering scenes. 'Everything changed in an instant,' Lale forewarns us at the very start, and not only does the sisters' lifestyle alter abruptly early on, but throughout there are several other instances when the film jolts from candid light-heartedness to chilling tension or heartbreak.

As well as sporting a strong narrative, Mustang is also very visually-engaging. The
cinematography evokes the girls emotions - whether they be of freedom or oppression, comfort or frustration, hope or dejection - with its captivating colour and lighting, and claustrophobic shots. With its smart cast, lean script and powerful evocation of the unbroken spirit,  Mustang is a story to more than simply enjoy. Its message is clear and powerful - no matter your size, age, gender or sex, you can resist anything if your spirit is strong enough.

Lauren Ross is a member of the EIFF Young Programmers group, for more information visit

Lauren will be giving an introduction before the 20:30 screening of Mustang on Thursday 19 May.

Mustang is now screening at Filmhouse - click here for info/booking.

Lauren Ross

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The Filmhouse is located at 88 Lothian Road, Edinburgh, EH3 9BZ. You can book your tickets online, but the booking process is unfortunately requires javascript at present. Tickets can also be bought by phoning the box office on 01312282688.  Filmhouse location