Belfast Film Festival 2016

Mustang.

Mustang pic 1.

Very rarely does a film affect me in the way Mustang did… This film, unlike the vast majority of horror movies I’ve ever seen, actually inspired a rather unsettling dream within hours of watching it.

In this curious dream I was being relentlessly pursued by a group of well-meaning men and women who intended to forcibly marry me off – in the end, myself and a girl to whom I did want to be married had to go on the run from these people, using various escape routes through air vents and underwater facilities. And those are just the details I’m able to recall now as the memory of the experience fades. It felt strangely thrilling but also dangerous, as if to be forced against your will into an unhappy marriage was akin to a death sentence.

For the five young girls at the centre of Mustang, and many others in their situation in real life, this kind of dream is a reality; one they would wish to escape from if given the opportunity. The film opens with the girls innocently playing in the sea with a group of boys – for which they are scolded, beaten, and subjected to virginity tests when an old lady in the neighbourhood sees what they are doing and passes the news on to their grandmother. Such actions are unbecoming of girls who should be spending the majority of their time ‘wife training’.

You may think this is one of those films with a lot to say about a specific religion – in this setting, Islam. But that’s not the case. These girls, their relationships with each other and their fight for liberty, freedom from the oppression inherent within their culture and family life, are the focus of this story. Overt references to God and the religion to which they belong are absolutely minimal, if present at all. Do not come to it expecting some heavy-handed political agenda or bias.

It’s the directorial debut of Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Erguven – and you can add Mustang to the list of recent debuts that I’ve been massively impressed by. This delightful movie is emotional, humorous and thematically challenging in equal measure… one that deserves the accolades it has received in the past year (first screened at Cannes in May 2015 and winning numerous awards on the festival circuit since); and one that I’m already looking forward to revisiting.

10 / 10

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