by Cass Cannon
And while I definitely read that in Clarice’s southern drawl, and would pay big money to see Jodie Foster punch a room full of executives in their faces, it bums me out that this is still hot button issue in 2016. So, I went into this week with a bit of a different intention in how I’m watching and talking about movies. I’m a writer (as well as a girl. Surprise!), and while I love movies as much as the next guy, I’m getting more and more dissatisfied with the limited discussion surrounding female movie makers. Admittedly, I’m a huge part of the problem. By not making an effort to educate myself on up and coming female directors—talking about their styles, debut movies, successes and failures—I haven’t been doing enough to change what I feel is such a problem: we don’t talk about women in movies in the same way we talk about men.
So, if you like powerful women as much as I do, stay tuned for more reviews to come about badass ladies making sometimes bad and sometimes badass movies. This week, I’m excited to chat about the directorial debut of Deniz Gamze Ergüwen: Mustang.
Throughout the film, the girls fight to not be seen as sexual beings, or at least be in charge of when they’re to be seen in such a light. There’s a candid intimacy with how the girls are shown playing and comforting each other. The story flip flops between the parent-figures’ paranoia and worry and the girls trying to make the best of their situation through play, comfort, and small moments of escape. Despite being set in a tiny Turkish village off the coast of the Black Sea, the story is relatable and develops into an honest portrayal of sibling relationships and spirit.
The thing that Mustang does so effectively, and most impressively, is layer all its parts in such a fashion that nothing is out of place or inefficient. In an interview, Ergüwen talks about how she designed the plot to function like a series of watch gears; it is hard to take apart and understand each piece separately but, looking at everything as a whole, the parts gel and we’re invited to dig deeper into connections between those parts. In this way, Lale and her four sisters function as one, ten legged character (insert Human Centipede reference here...too much? Sorry). At first, we’re sort of attacked by the giggling and screaming of all these girls, and at first I didn’t think I was going to end up liking these characters, let alone relating to them. As the house empties and Lale shifts into center stage, we can appreciate how complex and resilient these young ladies are. They barrel the plot forward with a blend of humor, sadness, and strength. Ergüwen also spoke lengths to her desire that we not take pity on the girls—even while bad shit is happening, they never give up fighting against their situation.
It’s a movie that channels a witch-hunt, a prison break, and a coming of age story all at once. Ergüwen manages to pastiche old narratives together to make something new and refreshing. Beyond an empowering depiction of girls, the movie is just really, really f’ing good. It shows that focusing on women in film can be more than a cautionary tale or a damaged-girl-turned-badass. I think the last couple years have been very good to female leads, so let’s make the next couple years be just as good to the women behind the camera.