Girls, both the song and the French-Turkish film Mustang declare, want to have fun. They want to go to dance all night, wear cute clothes, swim, go to soccer games, hook up with boys, and, generally speaking, not have fussy adults always telling them what they can and can’t do. But the five sisters at the heart of Mustang also want to choose who they marry (or if they marry at all). They want to drive, have their own money, go to school, and see the world that lies beyond their remote, oppressive seaside town. They want their lives to be their own, even if it means taking drastic measures to make them so.
Mustang tells a straightforward story of female empowerment, but it’s the way it tells that story that makes it deserving of all the accolades it’s received, including an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film. Though the movie has won (superficial) comparisons to The Virgin Suicides, it has a more distinctly female perspective and is too close to its subjects to feel voyeuristic. The trouble begins in the first 10 minutes of the film, when some nasty gossip and a misunderstanding turns innocent fun into a minor sexual scandal, leading the girls’ relatives to increasingly shut down their access to the outside world. The Turkish-born French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven balances out the film’s creeping claustrophobia with quiet (and not-so-quiet) acts of rebellion, unexpected humor, and warmth, and the result is a tender and fresh coming-of-age film that honors the bonds of womanhood and sisterhood without taking them for granted.