MUSTANG: France’s Oscar Entry is Urgent Tale of Female Empowerment

mustang_3Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven made a strong feature debut in this year’s Cannes Film Fest with Mustang, a timely tale of female empowerment, placed in the broader context of rigid Turkish patriarchy, in which women still struggle to be treated as equals.

Screening in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, Mustang, which was acquired by the Cohen Media Group for 2016 release, is France’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

mustang_5The story takes place in a small Turkish community where Lale (newcomer Gunes Nezihe Şensoy), the youngest of five sisters, narrates the events that occurred after a neighbor mistook their innocent joking with some boys as an act of sexual deviance.

Since the sisters’ parents are dead, and their protective uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) decides to forbid them to leave the house, forcing them into arranged marriages, and it’s only a matter of time before Lale and her siblings will rebel against his restrictive oppression.

mustang_7The director, who co-penned the script with Alice Winocour (who helmed the Un Certain Regard film, Disorder), describes in detail the various horrific conditions under which the sisters live.

She makes sure to delineate her characters’ personalities in a distinctive way.  Thus,  the eldest sister, Sonay (İlayda Akdoğan) is particularly fiesty and direct with the local boys.

In addition to their conservative uncle, they are also under the watchful eye of their reactionary grandmother (Nihal Koldaş).

mustang_6Turning point occurs, when Erol imposes harsher restrictions, locking them up in their house, which becomes  a claustrophobic prison

The subjugation of these women becomes increasingly infuriating, and Ergüven does a marvelous job putting us in the mindset of her protagonists, trapping us right along with them.

Adding to the irritation is Pekcan’s expertly deplorable performance as the girls’ uncle, the character’s condescending, brusque attitude a pungent stand-in for a society that believes it knows best how young women should comport themselves.

mustang_9One of the achievements of Mustang is the ability of the director to construct distinct personalities for each of the sisters, making it easy to relate to and to tell the individual sisters apart. Ergüven, who cast mostly unknowns, emphasizes the sisters’ intense bonds, their camaraderie, manifest in their diverse interactions, whether they are light-hearted, or melodramatic and tense as the saga escalates into the realm of tragedy.

Initially, Lale’s indignant conduct seems strange, but after the abuse and humiliation that she and her sisters experience, it becomes clear and urgent.


Güneş Nezihe Şensoy

Doğa Zeynep Doğuşlu

Elit İşcan

Tuğba Sunguroğlu

İlayda Akdoğan

Nihal Koldaş

Ayberk Pekcan



Producer: Charles Gillibert

Screenplay: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour

Cinematography: David Chizallet, Ersin Gok

Editor: Mathilde Van de Moortel

Production designer: Serdar Yemisci

Music: Warren Ellis