Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 14, 2015 1:37 pm 
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Girls running wild in a rural cage

Described as a Turkish Virgin Suicides, this strong debut by Turkish-born but French-bred and La Fémis-trained director Ergüven is about five free and frolicsome sisters close together in age who come in for strict repression. They live in the rural north of Turkey, 1,000 kilometers from Istanbul. They were orphaned ten years before and are under the care of their uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) and grandmother ((Nihal G. Koldas)). At the film's outset, in a breathless, tumultuous scene, the girls stop at the beach on the way from school and play with boys their age, who jump in the water in their school outfits, ride them on their backs. Reports of this misbehavior from a nosy neighbor immediately leads to severe punishment from their guardians. They'r even taken to a doctor to certify that they're still virgins. Bars are put on windows, walls are raised, the girls are taken out of school and a "marriage school" begins, old ladies teaching them how to mend and cook, and marrying them off begins.

But Lale (Günes Sensoy), Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu), Ece (Elit Iscan), Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), and Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan) -- played by non-professionals, even dressed in what they call "shit-colored" plain dresses now (hair still long) remain lively, though they're not much differentiated in the action. They sun themselves in skimpy clothes. One sneaks out for a date with a boy. The youngest vows to drive away in the car, and struggles to figure out how to make it run. After the first marriage, the rebellious spirit grows. It feels ominous and is exciting pretty much to the end, even though the ominous droning music began in the first scene and the ending felt to me anti-climactic and somewhat vague. Mike D'Angelo, more perceptively, saw it as a such a touching expression of repressed longing he was moved to tears by it.

The film leaves you feeling dazzled and a little confused. Ergüven's film itself is a bit of a "mustang" too: its handheld camera feels wild. Could the sequence of the girls at a soccer match be a nod to Panahi's Offside? When they hear of a big match to be for women only in the audience, they sneak off. A hippieish long-haired young man with a grin called Yasmin (Burak Yigit), who gives several of them rides, is a source of liberation. But there is also a grim fate for some. The editing by Mithilde van de Moortel (Something in the Air) jumps from one scene to another and you have to catch up. Is this partly the influence of Wincour, whose Augustine seemed to strive unnecessarily for strangeness? Still there is something pleasingly sui generis and perhaps memorable in this unfun but vivid and sometimes beautiful film. (The girls are pretty.) Reviews have been glowing (Metacritic 82%; AlloCine press rating 4.0. ). The French entry in the Best Foreign Oscar competition, and that works, I guess: this is as foreign to them as to us. It's all in Turkish. Intense, pushy music by French resident, Australian born, Nick Cave alum Warren Ellis.

Mustang, , 87 mins., debuted at Directors' Fortnight at Cannes, May 2015. Many other festivals including Venice and Toronto. US limited release from 20 Nov. 2015. Landmark SF Bay Area from 8 Jan. 2016. Metacritic rating: 83%.

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