Foreign Language Film: Forget about the French „Mustang“, try Montenegrin „You Carry Me“
I've had a chance to watch Mustang a few days ago, a directorial debut by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, which has been shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language film as the French official entry. At first I was a bit confused to why France sent a Turkish movie as their representative over Cannes winner Dheepan, but after watching the movie, the tactic seemed more than obvious.
Mustang is a story about five teenage girls who are one day caught playing with boys after school. When their grandmother beats them as punishment for being seen frolicking with boys, they put up a united front of resistance. Local families with marriageable sons are invited over to their house, so that the eldest sisters can be married off. Their house slowly becomes a prison — as walls are heightened and windows barred to keep the girls from running away at night — but they retain their free-spiritedness.
The thing which bothers me the most is the fakeness of the whole movie. Firstly, I have many female friends in Turkey, and none of them were locked behind the bars of their own home until they got married. Most of them are in their 30's, still not married but still a part of the society.
I believe the casting instructions for Mustang were „skinny beautiful girls with long shinny hair“, as they are mostly shot without many clothes. While mostly in their underpants, they often lay in their bedroom hugged, they pet each other and play with each other's hair. Who behaves like that? Except for the youngest sister, they are all portrayed so poorly, to the extent that one of them seems like an extra and doesn’t have a single line until the second half of the movie.
The narrative aspect is the worst and even a fairy tale requires some degree of shading. If the grandmother and the uncle are so conservatively minded, why have the sisters been seemingly able to enjoy total liberty until now? Similar questions also arise with respect to the details of the girls' captivity. So they're canny enough to sneak out again and again unnoticed, but not sly enough to retrieve their mobile phones from the cupboard the grandmother has impounded them in? If the grandmother has confiscated all potential temptations, why are they still able to lounge around in revealing clothing, other than the fact that it permits more catalogue-ready images to be made?
The intention of the movie is clear - to show overly sexualized young girls, or rather say „objects“, who often sneak out, try to escape the repression and dream of a different life. The intention of France is also very clear – to show this crowdpleasing film and those girls to the Academy, which by its demographic structure is mostly represented by old white guys.
Just to draw a comparison, I was really disappointed to see that „You Carry Me“, directed by Ivona Juka, didn't make the cut and didn't get shortlisted for Oscar. This film presents real women, with real problems who cope with they everyday life. The protagonists are three different women with different social backgrounds, they are not little pricesses and they don't need any man to save them. They are multidimensional characters and you can really get to know them sympathize with them. They have their purpose in the movie, they are not extras, and aren't driven solely by their sex instincts.
Ivona Juka, the director, does not depart from an ideological or political platform, nor does she advocate one. She is not trying to portray women as a "minority", or as victims and/ or someone whose freedom is (yet) to be fought for. The film is not a crowdpleaser, yet it has an untipical happy end, which I do not intend to reveal.
One would think that a refreshing look at female characters would be welcoming, but I guess the same old „sex sells“ still dominates the film industry.