Mustang Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan. Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
Life under an oppressive regime might have its share of misery, but it’s still life. Too often movies about people living in repressive conditions focus on that misery above all other emotions, which is part of what makes Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang such a wonderfully refreshing experience. The main characters in Ergüven’s film are subject to cruel and unfair constraints on their lives, denied basic freedoms and dismissed as unable to make their own decisions, but they still find moments of grace, beauty and humor, and they never lose their determination and individuality.
At first, the five teen and tween sisters, who live with their grandmother and uncle in a rural area in Turkey following the death of their parents, almost come across as a single entity, with their similar looks and their closeness in age. Gradually, they become more distinct, in part because their family elders force them into rigid gender roles as they come of age. But as sad as much of the movie can be, Ergüven makes room for simple joys, and the sun-dappled visual style reflects the young women’s inner light. In the end, sisterly solidarity nearly wins out over patriarchal tyranny—and it never entirely concedes.