On another cold Christmas weekend day, it was off to see another film that just opened at the Living Room Theaters here in downtown Portland. Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Mustang centers on five orphaned sisters, Lale, Nur, Ece, Selma and Sonay, whose innocent play one summer day with some local boys sets off alarms in their rural Turkish village and with their strict, conservative grandmother and uncle. Because of this innocent play the family home becomes a prison where bars and gates guard the girls from escaping, outside pop culture influences such as computers and cell phones confiscated, girls clothing reduced to modest dresses, and teachings in cooking and homemaking become the norm. But throughout the film, a hero emerges among the sisters that makes Mustang one of the best feminist films of our time.
As the grandmother and uncle subject the sisters to arranged marriages, Lale, not wanting to become a victim of a strict and oppressive culture, becomes the heroic leader in hopes to persuade the remaining unmarried sisters to escape. Watching Lale rise up to defy the oppression on her and her sisters had me silently rooting for Lale and the girls to escape and run for freedom. “Go girls, get out of there!” is what I was silently saying to myself as the drama was unfolding. Not to mention, the uncle was a character I despised the most, as his actions and abuse towards the girls clearly represented the very same patriarchy (and male-dominated society) that sees women as servants to men and not independent, free-thinking women. Mustang also features moments of subtle humor and bonding between the sisters that is both touching and heartbreaking. As one watches the events unfold, one can’t help but felt sad for these girls and feel the urge to reach out and rescue all the girls.
Witnessing the stripping of these sisters’ livelihoods and blossoming into independent women throughout the film was heartbreaking enough. But I also understood that Mustang serves as a fantastic teaching tool for audiences think about the oppressions that still continue towards women and girls all over the world – and even here in the United States! Already on the short list for possible nomination for Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards, Mustang is an edge-of-your-seat escape film and one of the best feminist films of our time.