Dir: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
This engrossing film while in Turkish and set in Turkey, is actually France’s submission for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the Oscars this year and I wonder if it might actually be the dark horse in the competition that its name suggests.
Five orphaned sisters are readied for arranged marriages by their grandmother and uncle, with varying results.
As most of the ‘Foreign Language Film’ nominees most years are about some aspect of war, though still an oppressive topic this is still a welcome change. It explores the scope of the issue of arranged marriage, while keeping the focus on just one family.
Everything starts seemingly happy, the girls seem to be normal teenagers having a fun walk home from school, playing with other teenagers. Once they get home there’s the immediate and harsh shock of their home life, with them in massive trouble straight away for their antics en-route and punished aggressively with reference to bigger concerns from their grandmother. Before long their home turns into a ‘wife factory’ where they are taught different skills they will need, kept at home to preserve their purity so they are ready to be married off.
The girls start to go a little stir crazy but at least they have each other and are very close, their bond is beautifully conveyed throughout and is one of the greatest strengths of the film, giving real emotional heft to the story no matter how things develop. There are also brief moments of levity, one being when they manage to escape for a football match, only their crazy aunty manages to avert bigger trouble but the ‘fallout’ is bad enough. The girls are put on show and their home turns into a prison, not just metaphorically but in many physical ways too.
All the girls are very young, definitely of school-age. From my perspective outside a culture like this it’s worrying to think they are being married off. While ‘age’ is mentioned in relation to being of age to get married, I didn’t once notice any actual numbers given, so we don’t know any of their exact ages but I’d guess the eldest is no more than 16 or 17 at the very most. The first two marriages are arranged very quickly and easily, disturbingly so, one happily as the boy and girl like each other, the other is far more reluctantly.
There’s a clear turning point in the story which I won’t go in to, then things look a lot bleaker and eventually lead to a dramatic stand-off which had me on tenterhooks. With occasional narration from the youngest girl Lale’s viewpoint, it at times highlights the impact of the situation on her. While she’s the last one who’ll be considered for marriage, she’s also faced with seeing all her sisters married off and leaving her so is impacted most by the events. It’s very well acted by all involved and at times I was able to pull myself away from the story for a moment to look at how beautifully it is filmed, there are a few shots near the end that allow for this.
It’s clearly not in support of arranged marriages, though I must say the inclusion of one in which the two do like each other and want to get married makes me think that they aren’t writing off the tradition completely. In my life I’ve only met one couple who met through an arranged marriage and they are very much in love, though I understand they aren’t necessarily typical. However, I think one particular strength of the film is that the variety of responses by the girls allows the it to represent so many feelings towards the institution and cover a range of scenarios and experiences that may accurately depict the realities for many, if not most in situations similar to this. While tragic at times, somehow the film still manages to be uplifting overall and I found it incredibly captivating from start to end.
‘Mustang’ is nominated at this weekend’s Academy Awards for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ which is widely expected to be won by ‘Son of Saul’. However this is so very good that I think it actually may have a chance of stealing the Oscar.