Cohen Media Group
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Grade: A-
Director:  Deniz Gamze Erguven
Written by:  Deniz Gamze Erguven, Alice Winocour
Cast: Gunes Nezihe Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan, Nihal Koldas, Ayberk Pekcan, Erol Afsin
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 11/12/15
Opens:  November 20, 2015

Turkish girls just wanna have fun too!  So what’s the problem?  The adults, as usual.  “Mustang,” which deals with this theme, is France’s entry to the Academy Awards competition (director Deniz Gamze Erguven lives in France—but really, this should have been the Turkish entry).  We usually think of Turkey as one of the more liberal of the mostly Muslim states, but that’s because Westerners, who do not travel to ordinary villages any more than Europeans come to America to see Passaic, walk principally about the streets of Istanbul.  But some of the villages in Eastern and Northern Turkey are as culturally different from Istanbul as New York is to Kansas City.

An early scene in “Mustang” shows five sisters, orphans being brought up by their grandmother (Nihal Koldas) and uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) some six hundred miles from Istanbul, giving off enough energy to light up both New York and Kansas City.  But their caretakers are eager to tone down the lighting especially when, after the giggling girls ride piggy-back on some boys’ shoulders while splashing in the water, a neighbor turns them in to grandma.  Why?  The girls, barely aware of their budding sexuality, are accused of pleasing themselves, rubbing themselves on the young men’s shoulders.

Big crackdown coming!  Uncle and granny de-sex the house, stripping them of tight-fitting threads, computers and cell phones, and what can a gal do without a cell phone?  While uncle, who had been sexually abusing Nur (Doga Doguslu), goes to work having gates and bars built to imprison his charges in the house, Granny figures the sooner she can marry them off, the better.  In the movie’s funniest and most absorbing scenes, prospective grooms and their ilk are brought into the house by a smiling elderly lady, while the girls are instructed to serve tea to the guests.  A double marriage is to take place. Lucky Sonay (Illayda Akdogan) is allowed to marry her boyfriend Ekin (Enes Surum) (she remains a virgin because they have only anal sex), but unfortunate Selma (Tugbac Sunguroglu) must hitch up with Osman (Erol Afsin), the two not even looking at each other while grandma decides that they share affection.

Having been given lessons in domestic skills by some aunts, the girls who are still single are lined up with Ece (Elit Iscan) to be next to go, then Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu).

The joys of the girls give way to a serious second half, which recall Sofia Coppola’s 1999 film “The Virgin Suicides,” about a group of male friends obsessed with sisters who are sheltered by their strict, religious parents.  As with that movie, “Mustang” features caretakers who had never discussed sex with the girls, though the grandma leaves an old paperback manual in sight before Sonay’s wedding.

From time to time we hear of honor killings in Turkey wherein a woman who defies her parents may be killed by her father and brothers, who apparently get away with murder.  It seems unusual, then, for the Turkish Ministry of Culture to help finance this movie, which however comic, does a job of satirizing the Muslim culture’s marriage ways.  Director Erguven, who co-wrote the script with Alice Winocour, is clearly opposed to conservative morality, prescriptive rules that show their legislators horrified by the natural, growing sexuality of the adolescents.  This is no didactic treatment, but instead an alternately comedic and tragic look at the repressive customs of a village people far removed from the relative liberalism of Istanbul and Ankara.  The cast, mostly newcomers, do a thoroughly convincing and enjoyable job of unfolding the film’s principal theme making “Mustang” quite a good choice for the Oscar competition.

Unrated.  97 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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