MUSTANG: Director Deniz Gamze Erguven

Mustang, the tale of five fiesty Turkish sisters, who determine to fight rigid patriarchy, is France’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

World premiering at the Cannes Film Fest, it is one of the best foreign films I have seen in 2016.

Turkish-born, Paris-based director Deniz Gamze Erguven, who’s 37, had feared that she wouldn’t be able to make “Mustang,” because the material was too personal; the girls were inspired by her cousins back in Turkey.

As a result, it was not her feature debut. Shortly after graduating from France’s La Femis film school, she went to Los Angeles to study the L.A. riots. She spoke to citizens, rode in police helicopters, and poured all she had into the script, which she called Kings.

The project was invited to Cannes’ Cinefondation workshop, where she met future co-writer Alice Winocour.  But investors couldn’t understand why a French-Turkish helmer would pitch such a story. “It was so obvious to me,” she told Variety. “I was drawn to the tragedy, and the fact that it was five days in L.A. without laws.”

When the project faltered, “I was ready to move to Australia and sell ice cream.  But Alice was the one who lifted me back up when I was really flat on the ground. She made me write 20 hours a day.”

Erguven mentions as her formative influences, cult director-mentor Olivier Assayas (“The Clouds of Sils Maria”), and the writings of the late and great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky (“The Sacrifice”).

Some of the scenes in “Kings” are in “Mustang”: The scene where the woman breaks the electrical transformer, for example, or throwing burning pots out the window came from “Kings.” “I was attracted to the L.A. riots because there was an amazing amount of raw energy, and also being a very dark story with a lot of potential for comedy,” she told Variety, which selected her at one of Ten Directors to Watch.

The Turkish media have been very critical of Erguven, and the film was passed over when the country decided its Oscar entry.  Then the French committee selected “Mustang,” a triumph for Erguven, whose French nationality was refused before.

Despite the problems in Turkey today, Erguven plans to make her next film there. “If ‘Mustang’ is about what it is to be a woman, the next project is about a couple, and the theme of the film is losing democracy.”