‘It’s like everything changed in the blink of an eye.’

It’s summer holiday time and Lale’s favourite teacher is returning to Istanbul, leaving the northern village community where she has been teaching. Lale (Günes Sensoy), our narrator, lives with her four sisters Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu), Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), Ece (Elit Iscan) and Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan) together with their Grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas) and the man of the house, the distinctly conservative and opinionated uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan). The girls commence their vacation on the beach, having fun with the local boys as they splash about, fully clothed in their school uniforms, in the sea. But their behaviour is witnessed by some elder villagers and their grandmother learns of what are perceived to be indiscretions. The girls’ actions are deemed to be unacceptable, delinquent and debauched, resulting in a check of their virginity at the local clinic followed by strict discipline within the household to maintain their respectability. What’s more, the girls are coming of age and need to be married, their virtue, of course, to remain intact until their respective wedding nights. So they become locked away from the world, ‘the house became a wife factory’, ready for their arranged marriages. Naturally the sisters are none too impressed with this and seek any means to escape their confines, whether it be to meet with the boys or even to watch a football match which has women only spectators. And so one brief but seemingly endless summer dramatically changes the lives of all five young women.

A wistful, occasionally humorous and emotional character drama that addresses social and inter-generational issues as much as it addresses individuality and personality, Mustang is appealing and warm on so many levels that it is a real treat to watch. Sadness, smiles and sisterhood are the order of the day in a film which is hugely reminiscent of those other great sisterhood films The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola [1999]) and also the delightful Our Little Sister (2015). The sisters’ place in their incredibly conservative environment conflicts with their desires to be individuals – ‘Now it was our turn to wear a shapeless shit coloured dress’ – and, particularly in the case of the youngest Lale, rebellious to society’s expectations of their situation and gender. While the elder generation is perceived to be highly traditional, this is balanced through the representation of the younger protagonists. The girls’ interaction with the boys on the beach was entirely innocent and their increasing reliance on the young driver Yasin (Burak Yigit) who initially helps them get to the women’s only coach which takes them to the football match and later is a phone-call away assisting them are notable examples. And despite the values adhered to at home, the girls do have an occasional ally in the form of Aunt Emine (Aynur Komecoglu). As they escape their confines to attend the football match they are recorded on camera and their presence broadcast on TV. Their male relatives are watching the match that they can’t attend. However their viewing is curtailed by signal loss, as, having seen the girls on TV, their Aunt takes out the local electricity supply in order to protect them. As director Deniz Gamze Ergüven points out, amidst all the social turmoil and societal expectations ‘I had to, in a way, give them back their happiness.’

Extras on the disc include an interview with Ergüven where she reveals her purposes in creating the film – ‘I wanted to tell what it was like to be a girl and a woman in Turkey’ – as well as documenting the casting and acting involving the actors’ relationships and the way their personalities developed on and off screen: ‘They quickly became a five headed body’. Also welcome is the inclusion of the short film Bir Damla Su (A Drop of Water [2006]) – written, directed and starring Ergüven. Here another Lale is mixes femininity, foreign fraternity and fracas as she brings her unwelcome lover to a family gathering. Accusations (‘girls in this family act like whores’) and violent resolution that lead to ‘a family gathering in a police station.’ Again there are links between inter-generational values and social expectations with the consequential retrospection and remorse, reflected in cinematography that lightly balances traditional environmental shots with intimate super 8mm.

Mustang addresses emotional, personal, political and societal issues, which will ensure that you’ll laugh and cry with the characters, regardless of gender or upbringing. Excellent debut feature.