REVIEW: “Mustang”


“Mustang” begins innocently enough. The school day ends for five orphaned sisters. The youngest girl and the film’s main protagonist Lale (played by Gunes Sensoy) is giving a teary-eyed goodbye to her favorite teacher who is leaving their small Turkish village for Istanbul. On the way home the five girls take a detour and have playful outing in the sea with some local boys.

But co-writer and first time director Deniz Gamze Ergüven wastes no time peeling back the many complex layers to her story. The townsfolk believe the girls to be unruly and promiscuous and are quick to judge their swim with the boys. By the time they get home their grandmother and guardian (Nihal Koldaş) has heard the neighbors’ salacious rumors and physically punishes the girls despite their pleas of innocence.


That opening event sets the table for the film’s main idea – five young sisters coming of age in a hyper-conservative, religiously stringent home. With each conflict their home becomes more of a prison both literally and figuratively. Ergüven’s honest portrayal doesn’t skirt around the physical and emotional hardships each girl experiences. We still get those playful and warm moments between them, but we are quickly reminded of how painfully serious and heart-wrenching their situation is.

One thing “Mustang” does so well is give all five sisters their own identity. This works thanks to great attention to personal detail in the writing and fantastic performances all around. Lale is the youngest and serves as our eyes and ears. Nur (Doğa Doğuşlu) is a fireball and closest to Lale’s age. Ece (Elit İşcan) is the sister who often languishes in her middle child status. Next is Sonay (İlayda Akdoğan) the rebellious one who sneaks out of the house with no regard of consequence. And last is Selma (Tuğba Sunguroğlu) the quiet and reserved one who as the oldest girl faces the brunt of punishment.

So many variables factor into the lives these girls are forced to live. The village’s strict religious tradition strips the girls of nearly every youthful experience they long for. It may be a trip to a soccer match or simply falling in love. Their vile uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) is even worse – verbally berating them, subjecting them to medical virginity tests, barring their windows, and in some instances far worse.


“Mustang” can be intensely uncomfortable and its bleakness often clouds any hint of optimism. But Ergüven never abandons hope. In many ways “Mustang” is a celebration of the youthful spirit and spotlights the longing for personal freedom and independence. That is what kept me glued to the story and emotionally bound to these young girls. That is what would sadden me in one scene and then have me laughing out loud a few scenes later.

Few movies have held my heart in its hands like “Mustang”. As the film moved forward I found my affections for the five girls growing. As a result I experienced joy, sympathy, shock, outrage, despair, and hope, all within Ergüven’s dramatic scope. “Mustang” is earnest, authentic, and brave enough to challenge specific social norms without a heavy hand. But it always comes back to five young girls desperate to experience life. That focus is what made “Mustang” such an extraordinary film.




10 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Mustang”

  1. WHOA!!! I must see this straight away now. A full score!! Great review too, I could see why you rated this so high. I LOVE the special banner for a ‘certified’ classic, I just might have to steal that idea though I have yet to give a 5/5 to any movie yet this year.

    • I couldn’t help it. This one earned it. I knew I loved it from its earliest scenes but its the ending that absolutely sold me. It is a special film and I would LOVE for you to see it and talk about it. I don’t give many 5/5 scores at all. Still haven’t given one for a 2016 movie (as this is technically a 2015 release). I think I only gave two 5 star reviews last year – Spotlight and Mad Max: Fury Road. This would have definitely been a third one!

  2. Great to see this get full marks. It’s one of my favourite films of 2016 and Lale is probably my favourite character to date. An excellent, intelligent screenplay and very good direction as the girls are slowly suffocated and oppressed more and more. I loved it!

    • I don’t give many 5/5 scores but I had to here. It’s such incredible storytelling start to finish. It’s so smart and bold. I found myself so emotionally invested. I just haven’t decided on whether to consider it a 2016 movie since it did release here in the states last year. It would definitely be near the top of my list though. Extraordinary film.

    • It’s great. It got a Foreign Language nomination at last year’s Oscars but I just now was able to see it. It’s actually out on Netflix now.

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