Innocence and emancipation in Deniz Gamze Ergüven's latest film

BY Bert Rebhandl in Culture Digest | 06 MAY 16

Lale and her sisters are decently dressed as they cavort with their classmates. It is the last day of school, the holidays are coming up, and the kids are playing on the beach of their remote Turkish town. The girls are wearing their school uniform: shiny white blouses and knee-covering skirts. The nasty neighbour who denounces them as ‘rotten’ for having ‘satisfied themselves on the shoulders of young men’ is probably clueless of their erotic appeal. Doubtless she’d be shocked to discover there are people who might find school uniforms enticing.

Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Mustang, 2015. Courtesy: Cohen Film Group

With her widley praised Turkish-European co-production Mustang, there’s a nagging suspicion that Deniz Gamze Ergüven is well aware of this appeal, and she never quite gets to the point of denying it. Sure, at root this is a story of emancipation: girls have to find a way out of a ‘factory of housewives’, out of a repressive culture of shame. But Mustang is so ostensibly fascinated by this topos of ‘innocence’ that it seems like an all too knowing hint when Lale eventually comes to Istanbul and crosses a store which offers ‘Objects of Desire’. This is clearly addressing the presumed audience of Mustang: the privileged Western liberals who flock to arthouse movies of this kind. For those people – that is, for us – Mustang provides that perfect fairytale fetish: cultural enlightenment, with a touch of eroticism.

Bert Rebhandl is a journalist, writer and translator who lives in Berlin. He co-founded and co-edits Cargo magazine.