Deniz Gamze Erguven (Turkey, 1978) was born in Turkey but raised in
Her first film, Mustang (2015), is nonetheless set in Turkey,
and in rural conservative Turkey.
It has a great plot about five girls who have a happy childhood despite
being orphans until the community starts objecting to their "obscene"
behavior (in reality, not obscene at all). Increased scrutiny and "protection"
of their virginity results in prison-like seclusion, and an acceleration
of the process of growing up and finding a husband, the only goal for village
women. The plot is less plausible and loses some power when it hints that
the uncle molested two of the girls (he is never shown molesting the girls,
but the fact is hinted). There is no need for such additional evil, and in
fact this individual evil ends up detracting from the collective evil of
the village. The story of women trapped in a prison by prejudice becomes
the story of women trying to escape an evil man, which is a lot less interesting.
The film's protagonist is the child, the one determined not to surrender
to the village and to tradition.
A child, Lale, cries when her teacher says goodbye to the class because
she's moving back to Istanbul.
Her older four sisters take her to the beach where they meet boys and have fun
in the waters.
When they finally get home, their grandmother is furious: a neighbor
reported that theit behavior was obscene. The grandmother punishes them one
by one and then their uncle decreed that they are no longer allowed to
leave the house. The uncle takes them to a clinic to get a virginity report,
without which, their granma explains, no boy would ever marry them.
We learn that their parents have been dead for a decade and they have been
raised by this granma and this single uncle.
The house becomes both a prison and a school for prospective wives.
Granma and aunt teach them how to cook and do all the household chores.
They are not allowed to attend school.
A kid is in love with the oldest sister, Sonay. He paints the street with
her name. At night Sonay climbs down from the window of their bedroom
to spend a few hours with him. Lale is fond of football and would like
to attend an important match, but her uncle disapproves. By coincidence,
that match is open only to the female audience: men have been banned because
of riots at a previous match. Lale talks the sisters into escaping from the
window and taking a free bus to the stadium, which is what most of their female
friends are going to do. They manage to escape but they miss the bus.
Lale flags down a delivery truck and begs the driver, a young man named Yasin,
to chase the bus and overtake it. Yasin obeys and the sisters join all the
other crazy girls. They have fun at the stadium. Unbeknownst to them,
they are actually showed on television. Their granma sees them and faints.
Their aunt saves them by taking down not only the home's electricity but
even the electricity of the whole village, so that their uncle cannot watch
the game on television. Nonetheless, the uncle is alerted that the girls
know a way to get out, and so he sets out to improve the walls, turning
the house into an even tougher prison.
Their granma tries to arrange a marriage between Sonay and a boy, but Sonay
refuses to serve tea to the boy's parents and granma simply replaces her
with her younger sister Selma. Then granma tells Sonay that her lover
Ekin must come and propose formally. So two marriages are arranged.
Selma doesn't like her fiance and wonders if she really must have sex with him.
Sonay reveals that she has been having anal sex with Ekin, so to remain a
virgin. At the double wedding Sonay is ecstatic while Selma is depressed.
Worse: Selma doesn't bleed after the first night. The parents of the groom
demand proof that she's really a virgin. A clinic proves that Selma's
hyman is intact. Meanwhile, the little Lale has become very hostile to
the very notion of marriage. She discovers where her uncle keeps the car
keys and, when she has a chance, she takes the keys and tries to start the
car, but she doesn't know how to use the clutch.
Now granma wants to find a match for Ece, who has been abused by her uncle
(this is shown only for a few seconds). The little Lale gets furious when a family
comes to arrange the marriage of Ece with their boy, whom Ece has never
seen before. Lale even spits in the tea that Ece is asked to serve.
Lale flees the house and walks on the road, still wearing slippes, determined
to reach Istanbul.
By coincidence Yasin is driving just at that time and informs her that
it would take several days to reach Istanbul. Lale accepts to be driven
back home. Ece has started behaving weird. Their uncle further fortifies
the house. Lale keeps trying to start her uncle's car. One day the uncle
takes the three girls to town and leaves them alone for a few minutes.
That's enough for Ece to meet a boy and invite him into the car while
Lale and Nur take a walk. While Ece is having sex with this boy in the car,
Lale is fascinated by a travel agency that advertises bus tickets to Istanbul.
Ece's new lover shows up drunk at night under their window. The following
day Lale runs away again on the same road, flags down the same driver,
and begs him to teach her how to drive, which he does. Little Lale now knows
how to drive a car. A neighbor sees her and her uncle further improves
the walls of the house, which is now an impenetrable prison.
During a meal, Ece makes strange and obscene jokes which delight
her two sisters, but also infuriate their uncle. When he kickes her out of
the room, Ece grabs a gun and kills herself.
Lale and Nur plan to escape. Lale knows where granma hides the money and
steals it; but Lale looks in vain for a breach in the walls.
It is now Nur's turn to get married, despite the fact that she's still a child
(granma hints that she knows that her uncle has been abusing her too).
When the boy's parents come to fetch her for the wedding, Lale locks and
barricades all the doors. Her uncle has done such a great job of blocking
all possible escape routes that now he cannot get in. The boy's family
leaves humiliated. The uncle screams and bangs on the doors and windows but
Lale and Nur refuse to open. Lale finds the phone number of the store where
Yasin works and calls him for help. When the uncle sets out to break a
window, Lale and Nur runs out of the house and into the car. Lale drives away.
The uncle and other men chase them but only find the car abandoned on the
road. The girls hide until Yasin's truck comes by. Then Lale begs him to
drive them to a bus station. They buy a ticket for Istanbul.
When they arrive in Istanbul, they ask around until they find the address
that Lale has: it is the address of her former teacher, who is surprised and
moved to see her.