Feminist parable's message for Eddie McGuire and co.

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Mustang (M). Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven. Starring: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan, Nihal G. Koldas, Ayberk Pekcan. 97 minutes

If at first glance Mustang seems familiar, cast your mind back to 1999, and Sofia Coppola's adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' 1993 novel The Virgin Suicides. The resonance between the films, each of which is about five adolescent sisters who are literally held captive by conservative guardians, is graphic and explicit; compare, for example, this image from Coppola's film, with the one below, of Mustang's oppressed young heroines lounging despondently, limbs comingled, on their bedroom floor.

The setting is different — The Virgin Suicides takes place in 1970s suburban Michigan, Mustang in a village in northern Turkey in the modern day — but the feminist lens is applied in an equally vigorous, and similarly melancholic manner. Yet Mustang builds copiously upon, rather than repeating, its forebear. The Virgin Suicides considered the plight of young women whose lives unfold under the weight of severe Catholic conservatism and the middle-class male gaze.

Mustang co-writer and director Ergüven concerns herself with a broader social conservatism and paternalism that is at once particular to its provincial setting, and universal. Consider a scene in which the sisters attend a football match from which men have been barred. The youngest sister (the film's narrator) Lale (Sensoy) is tossed repeatedly into the air on a wave of ecstatic female football fans. It is only in the absence of men that these girls are safe to experience joy.

Main cast from MustangOn the face of it modern Australia is a long way from the ultra conservative society depicted in Mustang. Yet it is hard to ignore the resonance between this image of a football utopia free from incipient male violence and events in Australian football these past weeks.

 

"Like a good parable, Mustang illuminates the ethical deficit of such a scenario, where women can so readily be bulldozed by powerful male voices."

 

The conversation between several prominent football personalities — including highly influential Collingwood president Eddie McGuire — that invoked violence against a female journalist, undermined the safety of and respect for all women.

That McGuire, eventually, and presumably under pressure from the club's board and a major sponsor, offered what seemed to be a sincere apology, barely diminishes the fact that the comments were made in the first place, compensates for the lack of real repercussions, or excuses the time and effort that was required to get the incident on the agenda at all. Like a good parable, Mustang illuminates the ethical deficit of such a scenario, where women can so readily be bulldozed by powerful male voices.

Like The Virgin Suicides however, it deals with such heavy content with a lightness of touch that makes it as accessible and entertaining as it is challenging. The sisters' grandmother (Koldas) initially appears to be the author of their oppression (the girls are orphans), brutally punishing them after they have been seen playing with boys at the beach. However it emerges that the real tyrant of the household is their uncle Erol (Pekcan). Erol is beyond strict; he is dangerous, and his abuses are many.

But Ergüven navigates all of this with quick pacing and surprising, often humorous story developments: see the frantic lengths to which the girls' aunty goes to prevent Erol from glimpsing them on TV when they are at the football match. With pathos, too: the girls at all times find solace in each other, and the easy, deep affection they share is tangible and bittersweet; Mustang explores their emerging sexuality and the crystalising of each girl's individual idenity in a way that is deeply touching and authentic.

The film's strong, engaging point of view comes from having Lale at its centre. As she sees her sisters married off one by one, she almost understands the implications (enough to recognise it as another form of gendered social control); just as she almost understands the significance of Erol's late-night visits to her sister's bed (enough to recognise it as a brutal exercise of male power). Lale is whip smart, yet innocent enough to be idealistic. She not only dreams of escape; she schemes to make it happen.

 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is acting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Mustang, Deniz Gamze Ergüven


 

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Existing comments

The problem with this interesting analysis is to bring Eddie into it at all. He does not have the intellectual grunt to understand his offences. His apologies are without substance because he just does not realise that being a boyo us no longer acceptable. And his mates are just as appalling. They will not change because they are not smart enough to realise that what some thought was funny 30 years ago is now just plain stupid, insensitive and grossly offensive.
Bill | 23 June 2016


"where women can so readily be bulldozed by powerful male voices"
Jennifer | 23 June 2016


Let's kill off larrikin humour all together in this country and embrace the inane introspection of pathetic puritanical political correctness. Then we can all be miserable as one big unhappy family
john frawley | 23 June 2016


The defence of privilege, the constant attacks on feminist reform / the inclusion agenda, and the lack of awareness that bullying humour undergirds family and domestic violence; these are some of the reasons that people shrug their shoulders in bewilderment when confronted with stats on murdered women throughout the year. (Or grapple with the mystery that is the continuation of The Footy Show.) But thankfully, as much as uncle Erols still abound, we can see the occasional hint of progress and the even more occasional positive change. Re pop culture, I happily recall ill-fated and shortlived attempts to revive Kingswood Country and Hey Hey It's Saturday, with their respectively lowbrow racist / sexist ethos that had Ockers giggling away in the 1980s... perhaps we are making progress re cultural awareness and change?
Barry G | 23 June 2016


The Eddie McGuire 'incident' was more than just larrikin humour. Larrikin humour isn't used as a weapon against any one group, and larrikins don't threaten to drown women. My only sympathy for Eddie McGuire is that he spoke as many other men (and some women) will speak against women who don't know their place, who are opinionated and articulate and criticize men. Other men can do that - women must be punished for it. I hope to see the film Tim has reviewed, because it does seem to portray a society where this attitude towards women is mainstream. Eddie and his supporters don't seem to realize it isn't mainstream in Australia any longer.
Joan Seymour | 23 June 2016


Eddie McGuire is a serial offender-remember "boning Jessica Rowe" Any sincerity in his apology has to viewed with a large dose of scepticism. The remedy--tune out ,turn him off don't watch "who wants to be a m,illionaire" or attend Collingwood functions and watch the consequences
John | 24 June 2016


I tend to agree with Bill's comment on this and regard McGuire's banter as typical boyo or yobo banter - that might simply be an over-the-top statement in jest, to let of steam, or to impress one's mates - but the problem was it was broadcast in the public domain, and didn't come across as funny or witty enough to avoid pass as satire or parody. For me, the biggest mystery is how someone as witless and lacking in emotional intelligence as Eddie McGuire has managed to keep his media and business career afloat.
Aurelio | 26 June 2016


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