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Mustang explores tradition through the lens of sisterhood



In the fight to preserve purity and maintain a status quo, who suffers the casualties? In one of the best foreign films of 2015, Turkish-language feature Mustang offers a heart-wrenching answer.

Making its debut Friday at Oklahoma City Museum of Art (OKCMOA), 415 Couch Drive, Mustang is a female-driven film if there ever was one. Deniz Gamze Ergüven impresses in her directorial debut, but the movie’s reputation has to be based on the strong performances turned in by the cast, specifically the five young and largely inexperienced actresses portraying the central group of sisters.

Mustang follows this group of orphans as they deal with life in the custody of their uncle and grandmother who place a virtual stranglehold on the sisters in an attempt to protect them from the corruptions and perversions of the world.

The movie opens with the girls giving an emotional goodbye to a teacher who is moving to Istanbul and away from their village in northern Turkey. The girls didn’t know they were saying goodbye to their school as well.


On the way home, the sisters stop at the beach, where they end up playing with some friendly boys, much to the disapproval of their grandmother and uncle. The incident must have been some kind of tipping point for the pair. Both view the girls’ burgeoning sexuality as a threat that could make them undesirable to a potential husband, and they make it their mission to keep the girls locked away at home or under supervision at all times until they are married off.

We’re talking barred up windows and the confiscation of various household objects. The uncle occasionally takes the girls to the doctor to be medically certain they are still virgins.

As we all know, however, love finds a way. In this case, that way involves climbing down a drainage pipe by their second-floor window. Despite stern warnings from their guardians, the girls still manage to sneak out to meet boys and see the world.

However, they don’t find it as easy to escape their impending marriages. One by one, strange families come in and the older sisters are paired off with their mostly awkward bachelor sons. Lale, the youngest sister, played brilliantly by rookie actress Günes Sensoy, is particularly upset because each ceremony rips away another piece of their familial bond.

Drawing from Turkey’s natural beauty, Mustang is also a visual pleasure despite a tiny estimated budget by American standards — less than $1.5 million. The only time disbelief cannot be suspended is during a scene at a soccer match clearly not shot in a stadium as large as it is suggested to be.

Still, the budgetary limits Mustang ran into were probably a blessing in disguise. The effect of the strictly conservative world the girls live in could easily have been undone by any degree of overproduction.

Ergüven found a winning formula in allowing her core of mostly amateur, teenaged actors to create a bond audiences can only read as authentic sisterhood.

Mustang plays at OKCMOA through Jan. 21. Tickets are $5-$9 and can be purchased at or at the box office.

Print headline: I don’t, Turkish film Mustang explores the threat of arranged marriages on the bond of sisterhood.

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