Four BYU professors joined a panel discussing International Cinema’s showing of the Turkish-French film Mustang.
PROVO, Utah (Nov. 15, 2016)—Mustang is director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s first feature film, but it has already been nominated for and won dozens of awards across the globe. The film is set in a rural Turkish town on the coast and follows the paths of five sisters growing up in a strictly conservative society. BYU hosted four professors, Kif Augustine-Adams (BYU Law); Connie Lamb (WS and Mid
dle Eastern Studies libr.); Daryl Lee (French and Italian) and Brandie Siegfried (English), to lead a panel discussion on the film.
In the film, sisters Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur and Lale are orphans raised by their grandmother and uncle. After getting caught playing a game in the ocean with boys after their last day of school before vacation, they are locked inside the house, cut off from the outside world. They are taught by the older neighbor women to cook and keep house as preparation for their future as wives.
Speaking of the grandmother’s abrupt restriction of the girls’ freedom, Lamb said, “I think the grandmother had a very difficult role because she loved her granddaughters and wanted to help them. On the other hand she was constrained by . . . tradition and conservatism.”
Despite all this conservative pressure and the trauma of being held prisoner in their own home, the film showcases the strength of the bond of sisterhood shared between the five girls. Lee said, “My favorite shot is . . . relatively early in the film when the five girls are sort of wrapped together and entwined. It’s this beautiful moment and I thought that the director really artfully handled the sense of both the individuality but also the strong sisterhood that was there.”
One of the main themes of the film is the control that the girls’ family members, particularly their uncle, exercise over their lives throughout the film. First, their electronics and makeup are taken away, then they are taken to the doctor for a “virginity test” to ensure their suitability for marriage. They are made to wear ultra-conservative clothing and forbidden from going to school. They are only let out on rare occasions, one of which is a trip to town to “get lemonade,” but really to show the girls off and attract potential suitors.
Augustine-Adams commented, “The denial of women’s autonomy can really change the trajectory of peoples’ lives.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the way the middle girl, Ece, changes over the course of the film. After being routinely sexually abused by her uncle, she becomes depressed and starts acting out. Siegfried explained, “It’s probably at that point that she [realized], ‘I’m nothing anymore. All of this culture is to make me chaste. And I’m not.’”
Ergüven, the film’s Turkish-French director, illuminated this culture of chastity as one of the central messages of the film. Lee said, “It’s clear that she wants to make some statements about Turkey, but she’s careful not to over-politicize this. It’s more of a social question.”
Augustine-Adams commented, “Historically, there is a tradition for cultures to reduce women to their bodies and to their biological functions.” Ergüven’s film questions this cultural tradition in view of the rights and health of the women and girls affected.
Siegfried said, “Little by little [throughout the film] you can watch the joy seep away. But the [the film] opens that possibility. . . that the humanity of men and women, when it’s allowed to flourish, can build that beauty back again.” Augustine-Adams concurred, adding that we all have the responsibility to help that beauty flourish.
—Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language ’17)
Olivia covers events for the International Cinema for the Department of Humanities. She is a senior pursuing a degree in French language with a minor in writing and rhetoric.