There’s estrogen, and plenty of it, in Mustang, a film that explores the treatment of the Feminine in a coastal village in northern Turkey. Co-written and directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, the movie creates a personal and cultural tug of war between two archetypes – Venus and Mars – culminating in a bittersweet victory.
The narrative – which includes periodic voiceovers from the youngest protagonist Lale (Gunes Sensoy) – centers on a family of five close-knit, radiant and earthy young siblings, three of whom are in their middle-to-late teens, with two on the cusp of puberty. On their last day of school, in a fit of exuberance, they all frolic in the Black Sea with some male classmates.
When the news of their friskiness – or “obscene behavior,” according to the elders – makes its way, through a gossipy neighbor, back home, there’s all hell to pay.
The girls, whose parents have been deceased for a decade, are being raised by their grandmother – frazzled to the core in her attempts to keep her brood virtuous and marriageable – and her son, who is the girls’ not-so-honorable uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan).
The seaside infraction results in their being taken to the doctor for a “medical virginity report,” and being pulled out of school. With sewing and cooking lessons now part of the daily routine, Grandma and Erol start making marry-off deals with other villagers who have eligible sons.
Erol turns the home into a fortress. He constructs increasingly higher spiked fences when the girls try to rebel, so that he can keep this tribe, with their blooming or soon-to-erupt sexuality, under his control. Technological devices, from phones to computers, are removed. More tragically, any strength which comes from a united front is also eliminated, as the girls are picked off one by one. As Lale says, “The house became a wife factory.” The new wardrobe? “Shapeless, shit-colored dresses.”
Ergüven initially focuses on the Venusian Feminine: the girls’ beauty, affection for each other, their values, and Aphrodite-inspired socializing. Although living in a remote part of Turkey, they perceive themselves to be modern young women, with a progressive take on love. But once they incur the wrath of their guardians, the girls’ fate becomes a far more dangerous Martian game.
If Venus is the receptive sexual element, Mars is the more aggressive and fiery. Even though the tribe’s eldest sibling Sonay (Illayda Akdogan), after a huge protest, is permitted to marry her boyfriend and hold onto her Aries-like passion, the other matches, orchestrated by Erol, suggest that he is engaged in some type of Martial competition. But Mars also rules risk, action, movement and cars and, when Ergüven heads into the homestretch, she transforms this tale of female sexual and cultural suffocation into a thriller, as Lale tries to save herself and another sibling through escape.
Like the wild Feminine, mustangs don’t like to be bridled and, as the film’s final scene demonstrates, education is a tender, supportive way to ensure robust self-expression. Mustang validates the adage that loving someone means setting them free. Or, even at the risk of losing one’s life, taking the reins all by yourself. Mustang is a must-see.
Archetype: Rebel. Captive. Beauty. Sexual Freedom. Feminine.
Astrology Archetype: ♀ ♂ (Venus, Mars)