Five orphaned sisters live in a small Turkish village, repressed by gender roles incited by their culture and enforced by their uncle. At the end of a school day, the girls decide to walk home rather than take a van home since it is nice and sunny outside. They walk with their classmates and enjoy the weather, stopping by the beach to play in the water. The girls are happy, but word of their play arrives home before they do. Their play was deemed sexual since the girls sat on boys’ shoulders while playing in the water.
Punishment follows with their grandmother (Nihal Koldas) appearing severe. Yet when their uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) arrives home, grandmother insists that the girls have done no wrong in an attempt to protect the girls from him. We can compare uncle Erol’s hegemony to Rasheed’s in Khaled Hosseini’s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns.
After this incident, the girls are forbidden from going to school. The older girls have secret rendezvous with men who solicit the girls from outside their window, but the girls are gradually imprisoned in their own house as uncle Erol becomes more and more controlling as the girls continue to break his rules. Bars are put over the windows and household items that could be of negative influence to the girls (telephone, computer, etc) are taken away and hidden. The girls dream of escaping to Instanbul, but one by one they are married off to men as the years progress. Marriage becomes the only freedom from uncle Erol’s imprisonment.
It is hard to say whether there is a glimmer of hope present at all in Mustang but this is because the film centers on repression in an honest manner. There are moments of happiness, to be sure, happiness as a means to express resilience. But there is also much that is grim.
The girls’ walk home with their classmates was based on an event in director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s life. And even in the process of directing Mustang, Ergüven was met with opposition dependent on her gender. Ergüven discovered she was pregnant while shooting Mustang and one of her producers (female) refused to produce the film, encouraging other producers and crew to step down since she believed the shoot would be a disaster if it was conducted by a pregnant woman. Needless to say, in an act of triumphant defiance, Ergüven and her cast and crew continued to create Mustang.