Updated: Dec 24, 2018
Coming-of-age films, more often than not, center around young boys.
Sometimes there's a female counterpart that wanders this strange time of transition; sometimes there is a female lead that takes center stage, and sometimes these young girls serve as a more elusive aspect of the backdrop than a coherent character.
On the few occasions in which a young girl is the lead of a coming of age film, their character is often flimsy and lacking in genuine substance. Not to mention, the plot carved out for these femme protagonists often revolves around something menial, like popularity or a boy, with some kind of “clever” twist- something not fully worth a 1-hour-and-something-minutes feature or the supposed "lesson" learned.
Few films in this genre truly resonate and provide a poignant portrayal of young women growing into their skin, regardless of whether they be the center of focus, or an image off to the side. Prime examples of effective works being The Virgin Suicides and Pretty in Pink, both films that are visually pleasing as well as presenting realistic, multifaceted female characters.
Thankfully, as times have progressed so has the film industry (gradually), resulting in more female-driven films being produced and entering the limelight that they so rightfully deserve. One work that is particularly turning heads since its release in 2015 is Turkish-French film Mustang. Directed by Deniz Gamez Erguven, the story follows five orphaned sisters living in a remote Turkish village under the watchful eye of their grandmother. The girls do their best to live freely within the strict, conservative society until a harmless act triggers their guardian to change their lives drastically and ultimately leading to the girls one by one being married off, their lives no longer being theirs to control. As the plot thickens, the sisters are at the forefront of the story as their lives change before them with virtually no voice in what's happening on screen, forcing them to rebel and escape the world closing in on them in their own, respective manners.
Mustang has, to Erguven’s displeasure, been frequently compared to the earlier mentioned 90s classic Virgin Suicides, yet this comparison seems unjustifiable given that if one takes a closer look at Mustang, any viewer would realize how dissimilar they truly are.
Both films do admittedly use a soft and dreamy kind of editing, in Mustang there noticeable are a lot of shots that convey the youthful innocence and wildness of the young girls- shots like scenes of them basking in the sun and sneaking through the field that surrounds their seaside home.
However, it is clearly in content that the two works divide. Mustang is far more harsh and straightforward. Not to mention that the work is more of a combination coming of age and escape film, as the young girls are being forced to grow up rapidly but they rebel as they desire to grasp onto their ever-present youth.
Essentially, the film is more than a gushy tale of transition from childhood to adulthood; it's more political than that. It conveys the unfair transition that girls often deal with, in which childhood is over and suddenly every action made is sexualized, something boys don't deal with systematically. Something that has always been an issue in society but is much more prevalent in certain parts of the world, such as Turkey.
This theme is one of the primary factors that makes Mustang so fascinating, especially so in the sense that it provides this “international-relatable” feel: seeing how things can often be both the same and different for young girls growing around the globe. All girls deal with their first crush, sibling bonding as well as rivalries, but not all girls deal with, in this case, being married against their will before their seventeenth birthday.
Another technical factor proves the film’s status as a contender in the award circuit is its stirring and honest dialogue and acting. There is no attempt to make the girl sound “wise beyond their years” as most coming of age works do, making every action all the more genuine. Not to mention that only one of the young actresses that plays one of the sisters has ever acted before- testifying to the girls’ power in holding their own and conveying the rawest adolescent emotions. ✉
piece by: lydia velazquez
visual by: mustang