Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang transplants The Virgin Suicides to rural Turkey, a place where female-horror fairy tales aren’t always fiction.
The wild horses of the title are five orphan sisters with waist-length manes who live with their grandmother and uncle in an increasingly pious village. At the start of the film, they’re normal kids chicken-fighting at the beach with boys. The local busybodies are aghast to see crotches straddling necks and, out of shame, their grandmother beats them. Soon after, their privileges — or really, rights — get stripped: no friends, no school, no revealing clothes. When they rebel, the windows are barred and grandma starts marrying them off to any taker.
Ergüven frames the story through the eyes of tomboy Lale (Günes Sensoy), the youngest, who can’t understand why her older sisters capitulate. When one awkward suitor comes knocking, she spits in his coffee as if that could call off the wedding. Lale burns with the same anger we feel, yet Ergüven also has empathy for Mustang‘s elderly matriarch (Nihal G. Koldas, excellent), who genuinely believes she’s saving the girls by taming them into dull, dumpling-making brides. (The rotten uncle, however, tips over into cartoon.)
The film could do with fewer panty shots of the listless sisters flopped across each other like kittens. Yet it manages to capture the lethargy of watching your life goals winnow into wifely servitude. Girls, says Ergüven, need room to run, scream, and even make mistakes. But more than that, they need room to dream for themselves. It hurts to see those bars erected around the house. It hurts worse to see them mounted in the girls’ minds.
Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Cohen Media Group
Opens November 20, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and IFC Center