Turkey being in the news lately, this is a good moment to do an overdue post on this fine Turkish film that opened in France in June to top reviews and audience acclaim—it did exceptionally well at the box office for a movie entirely in Turkish—and is France’s official entry for the Academy Award for best foreign language film. That’s right, France’s entry, the selection committee here considering it French, as it is a French co-production and director Deniz Gamze Ergüven has lived in France for most of her adult life (a good, engaging film though it is, this is ridiculous IMO, as the pic is 100% Turkish—there’s not a thing French about it—and there is one French film this year that should by all rights be France’s Oscar entry).
The story is simple. Five orphaned sisters in their teens and tweens live with an uncle, aunt, and grandmother in a big house in a village on the Black Sea somewhere near Trabzon. They’re sassy and full of life—and all pretty—but when their patriarchal uncle—who no doubt votes for the AKP—learns via village gossip that they’ve been flirting with boys after school and are, generally speaking, too free-spirited, he decides—with the willing assent of wife and mother—to pull them out of school and lock them in the house—allowed out only when closely chaperoned—so as to preserve the family honor, i.e. the girls’ virginity, until they can be married off (the uncle, who so fears his nieces’ putative sexuality, is naturally a pervert and rapist himself). The sisters, who are as close to one another as siblings can be, develop all sorts of schemes and strategies to break out of their prison. Some good and amusing scenes here, but also tragic ones. The sisters, all played by non-professional actresses, are great.
The film is a paean to feminism and the struggle against patriarchy and idiotic codes of honor regarding female sexuality in societies that have not entirely completed the transition to modernity (if one wants an explanation of the French Oscar choice, there you have it). But while the conservative family guardians and other villagers are frozen in archaic ways of thinking about gender, not everyone is. The sisters have sympathizers, indeed allies, on the outside. It’s a Turkish story. Two of the sisters, led by the youngest one—and the most audacious and rebellious—12-year-old Lale (actress Güneş Nezihe Şensoy; A Star Is Born…), dream of escaping to Istanbul, 1000 km away—Lale’s last schoolteacher, a feminist (who certainly votes CHP, maybe even HDP) is there—and (spoiler alert!) ultimately do. Istanbul symbolizes freedom—freedom being another of the pic’s leitmotifs (and thus the title, mustangs roaming free on the plain…). One feels the girls’ exhilaration as they cross the Bosphorus bridge at dawn on their long bus trip from the world they’re fleeing. US critics who saw the pic at Cannes last May, though noting minor issues, all gave it the thumbs up (more than one made reference to Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’—which I have not seen—and Pride and Prejudice). US and UK release should happen early next year. Trailer is here.