Mustang is one of those movies that wears its heart out in the open. There’s very little subtlety in the way it presents its criticism of traditional conservative Turkish culture. The film is overwhelmingly a feminist movie, told through the lens of a prison escape movie. And yet, everything works. Nothing comes off as corny, or insincere. Mustang is a powerful movie, one that is evocatively acted, well shot, and tensely edited film. It transcends above what could have easily been a preachy story, to become one of last year’s most interesting films.
Mustang is the story of five orphan girls who live with their grandmother in a rural Turkish village. After being caught by a member of the community in the act of playing a suggestive game, the girls are reprimanded by their traditionalist uncle who, with the help of their grandma, turns their home into a prison. They’re locked away, condemned to become the perfect wives for husbands in arranged marriages, untainted by the outside world. The film quickly becomes a balancing act, one in which the girls try to push back against their captors and escape, while also trying to avoid the wrath of their elders.
The film is an excellent, if not over top and slightly cartoonish study of how the societal norms in less progressive nations work against the empowerment of women. The five girls that this films follows are quickly stripped of their rights, their education, and their sense of individuality as the women and men in their life imprison them and attempt to mold them into perfect housewives. Every little thing about their lifestyle is repressed in order to maintain their purity and their virginity, which becomes a crucial point later on in the film. These women are boiled down to objects to use as bartering chips by their grandma and their uncle, and it is absolutely infuriating. Their push to escape from the desolate world in which they’ve been trapped can be seen as not just a prison break, but as an attempt to break free from the repressive expectations placed upon them by their stubborn relatives.
Feminism aside, the movie is tense and exciting. The more our leading women push back against their captors, the higher the stakes become, leading into a frightening finale that will push you to the edge of your seat. The film is brilliantly scripted, and is told from the perspective of the youngest of the girls, who has to watch as her world is torn away from her by force, leaving us no choice but to empathize with her as she lashes out in an attempt to save her sisters. The film is brutal at times, throwing some harsh realities at us as viewers that come off as no less than soul crushing.
Mustang, the first full length feature from Deniz Gamze Ergüven, was released to the festival circuit last year, creating huge buzz at the Cannes Film Festival in France, and eventually leading to a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Foreign Language Film, cementing its status as a must watch movie. The film is engaging, entertaining, and most of all, thought provoking. It forces us to examine the way women are treated in other cultures through the disguise of a prison break film. It is a story of heartbreak, tragedy, triumph, and ultimately the bond between siblings, explored in an extremely effective way. It isn’t a flawless film, sometimes going beyond the bounds of credibility, but this one comes highly recommended.
Mustang was presented theatrically using an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film was shot using an Arri Alexa at 2.8K, and finished digitally with a final resolution of 2K. The film is presented on Blu-ray by Cohen Media Group in 1080p, with a letterboxed aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
Mustang, shot by David Chizallet and Ersin Gok, is kind of a soft, hazy film. More often than not, especially during exterior sequences, the film is kind of bright and soft, giving it an exaggerating look to contrast to the darker, sharper interiors of grandmother’s home. The film’s occasional wide shots tend to suffer from lack of resolution, and at night, some of the footage really struggles, looking somewhat blocky, covered in a layer of ugly video noise. Close-ups reveal an average amount of detail, but nothing spectacular. In 1080p, Mustang never really ascends to the level of perfection that is typically associated with digital productions, but instead features a rougher style of presentation.
Mustang’s case states that it features two audio tracks, a Turkish DTS-Master Audio soundtrack, and a Dolby Digital soundtrack. In both cases, it did not state the speaker setup that it was mixed for. When I played the feature, the DTS-Master Audio track came up as a 7.1 sound mix. For review purposes, this soundtrack was listened to using a 5.1 surround sound setup. English subtitles are included for this release.
That being said, Mustang sounds pretty average. The film is a dialogue driven movie, one that doesn’t lend itself to a very exciting sound mix. On occasion, especially during scenes where the girls leave their house, the soundscape opens up a bit, especially during a scene where the girls sneak out to attend a soccer game. The film’s excellent score drifts into the surrounds on occasion, as do some quiet effects. Overall, this one sounds just fine for what it is, but it never truly impresses.
Special Features and Packaging:
Released to home video by Cohen Media Group, Mustang comes in a standard blue keepcase. The front artwork features the film’s award poster with the traditional red and black Cohen outline. The back features a rather dense amount of of information crammed into the smaller area afforded to it, which includes quotes from the film’s various reviews, a summary of the film, disc features, and then a large list of theatrical credits at the bottom. Oh yeah, and there’s 3 small pictures of shots from the film.
Inside the case, we have the DVD and Blu-ray discs, with identical artwork, and some great reversible artwork that is essentially a shot from one of the film’s many ensemble shots of the girls. Also inside is a code for digital download of the film’s soundtrack, and an interview with the director in booklet form. Pretty good, all things considered.
In terms of special features, Mustang’s release comes in pretty light. They are as follows:
Interview with the Cast of Mustang: a collection of clips featuring an interview with the main leads from the cast of the film. They discuss what is was like playing their characters, how it felt to be in such an acclaimed film, their trip to Cannes Film Festival, and a little bit about working on the film. The clip runs about 8 minutes and feels fairly heavily cut down from a larger session.
“A Drop of Water” a Short by Deniz Gamze Erguven: a short film that the director of Mustang shot while still in school studying film. The short follows the story of a young, beautiful woman who attempts to rebel against the repressive beliefs about women that her family holds. It echoes many of the themes that Mustang brought to the table, in a much smaller, more mature kind of way. The story is presented in a pillarboxed and letterboxed standard definition frame, and looks quite ugly, but the film is worth viewing at least once.
Theatrical Trailer: the film’s trailer, which paints it as less of a progressive feminist rebellion, and more of a prison escape film. It makes the film look a bit more energetic and exciting, due to its fast paced cutting and titles. A fairly standard trailer.
An Interview with Director Deniz Gamze Erguven: presented in booklet form, the interview is comprehensive, discussing the film’s production, cast, and story origins at great detail, paired with high quality shots from the film. This 16 page booklet is probably the highlight of the film’s features.
Overall, Mustang has a small, but adequate set of extras that left me satisfied. The packaging is fairly good however, and compliments the rest of the release quite nicely.
Mustang comes at you with full force, examining the conservative culture of Turkey in a frustrating, engaging, and tense way. Watching these girls attempt to escape the overwhelming grasp of their captors, bonding as sisters in the process makes for a very entertaining, yet thought provoking viewing. The film, released to Blu-ray by Cohen Media Group, features an average pair of audio and video transfers, reflecting the film’s lower budget origins. The release comes in excellent packaging, and although the features are pretty light, they are fairly appetizing as special features go. Mustang is one of those films that came across my desk by chance, and I’m glad it did. I loved it, and I’m giving it a healthy recommendation. Make sure you don’t miss this one.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.