Mustang: A film that reflects the hypocrises women & girls face daily
by Alex Thomas
Mustang is the story of five orphaned sisters growing up in a remote part of Turkey, who, despite their innocence and protestations, are imprisoned by their family following an innocent game with some local boys: a game which is woefully misinterpreted as signifying their sexual promiscuity by the wider community. The film follows the sisters as they find their lives being gradually and increasingly restricted, leading to a number of desperate bids for freedom – in particular by the youngest sister and protagonist, Lale.
In preparation for this review, I decided to look at what other critics of the film had written, and was surprised to read that Mustang has been described as a film about “female empowerment”. Personally, I couldn’t see how these two words could be associated with the message of this film in the slightest: for me and my viewing partner, it was a depiction of desperation, of such totalitarian and oppressive patriarchy that the girls central to the story had to either submit completely, fight or flee for their lives.
Although yes, [SPOILER ALERT] two of the five sisters manage to escape their family’s entrapments, such is the horror of what they have experienced that their final bid for freedom feels like anything but an act of empowerment or a moment of triumph over their oppressors. One feels acutely that somehow, they got lucky – extremely lucky. Other critics have seen fit to describe the film as sweet and comedic: again, yes, whilst there were sweet and comedic moments in the film, to highlight those over the overwhelmingly distressing tone of the movie is to gloss over and dismiss its central message.
“The expectation to marry a man chosen for them, to remain a virgin, to be good, dutiful wives and mothers…all serve to trap and narrow the worlds women are told they must live in.”
The fact that the reviews I encountered failed to relay the serious and gutting core of this film, highlights a wider ignorance and the evident socio-political gulfs that can exist between a film critic and the subject matter at hand. Whilst Mustang is a fictional film, it depicts in a very realistic way, what is an everyday reality for millions of women worldwide. Whilst most women and girls (I hope) are not imprisoned to the extent the characters in Mustang are, it is a fact that women and girls are to a huge and often unseen extent, imprisoned by the expectations and pressures placed upon them. The expectation to marry a man chosen for them, to remain a virgin, to be good, dutiful wives and mothers only, and to groom other young women in order to repeat this vicious cycle, all serve to trap and narrow the worlds they are told they must live in – a world whose double standards mean no such harsh rules exist for their male counterparts, or if they do, yield less cataclysmic results if and when broken.
The director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, courageously and admirably has drawn from many of her own experiences in making this film, and the female friend I was honoured enough to watch it with related most painfully with many of the scenes.
But I fear that for many of my fellow audience members, seated as they were in the comfortable surroundings of a cinema hall, Mustang was nothing more than just another movie with fine performances, fine cinematography, ‘sweet moments’, character arcs and scattered light moments. For most of them, this wasn’t a depiction of real life – or a searing and damning statement on the double standards that rule all our societies: a sad fact that was all too evident from the laughter of some audience members at those moments which my viewing partner found highly distressing. Perhaps it was nervous laughter, perhaps it was ignorance. Whatever the cause, they most certainly weren’t laughing by the end of the movie…
I hope Mustang will come to be recognised for what it is: an educational tool that will make people think beyond the cosy confines of their cinema seat. I hope too that audiences will realise what they see before them is more than just another film: it is a mirror that reflects what is, for far too many women and girls around the world, the realities of life.
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