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Nov 20 2015

Mustang Interview: "There's not just one way of being a director or looking at the world."

France's Oscar submissionMustang(previously reviewed) focuses on five orphaned sisters going through adolescence in a Turkish village where hormones are considered to be the ultimate evil.Worried about their reputation,their grandmother decides the best way to care for them is by marrying them off as soon as possible,but the sisters have very little to say in the decisions made for them.They don't understand why hanging out with boys is wrong,or why they should be married to strangers.DirectorDeniz Gamze Ergüven,in her feature length debut,tells a revelatory tale of oppression,but for all the hardships on display in the film,she keeps the style playful and fresh,reminding one of what it feels like to be a teenager oblivious or careless of the darkness in the world.

Most impressive of all,is the director's work with the five actresses playing the sisters - Lale (Günes Sensoy),Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan),Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu),Ece (Elit Iscan) and Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu) - who through subtle touches make us believe these young women have always lived together,and have formed an indestructible bond.In a bold,wonderful moveMustangwas selected asFrance's Foreign Language Film submission for the Oscars亚博主页,and with the warm response it's received in festivals all over the world,it might make it all the way to the final five.I spoke to Deniz Gamze Ergüven and was not surprised to realize she's as smart,refreshing and sincere as her film.

Our interview is after the jump...

Denis Gamze Ergüven in NYC.Photo credit: Jose Solis

JOSE: Were you inspired in any way by the structure of novels likeLittle Womenor the work of Jane Austen who often dealt with the bonds between sisters?

DENIZ GAMZE ERGÜVEN: No,it started of because I am exactly at the same spot as Lale,I'm the youngest in a family made of a lot of women.So that starting point made me feel closer to the story than any piece of film or literature.When you're working on the screenplay then of course you come back and revisit everything you've come across about sisterhood and brotherhood.There was no Jane Austen though,it was more Chekhov's Three Sisters,especially when it came to building their backstory and how these girls were raised in a city,and after the death of their parents they moved to the country.The fact that they were orphans also gave them the liberty to run around in the village,because you'd never mess with children who lost their parents,plus it's five of them.You come to know they've been whispered different values from what people believe in this village.When you make a film you navigate through your entire experience as a human being.

JOSE:Did you consider that making them orphans would romanticize them too much?Especially how most fairy tales have orphans raised by evil relatives.

DENIZ GAMZE ERGÜVEN: In a way with the death of the parents there was a very strong stand about literally going inside something that looked like a fairy tale,and also it's something very woven in Turkish culture since they died in a car accident.I know people who have lost their entire families in car accidents.So it's both,this huge tragedy looks unreal and it's also true.

I wondered if their mother at one point had been at all like them.If she was forced to marry someone she barely knew?

Actually no,that's not the backstory I told the girls.In the film they live with their father's family which is what would happen in Turkey if their parents died.

Probably living in New York you can forget how important cars are in society,and in the film I found it so fascinating how in Lale's desire to learn how to drive she is trying to reclaim her own body,her ability to go wherever she wants.Especially because cars are always such masculine symbols on film.

The car thing is very close to me.Growing up I always thought I needed tools to live in this world: knowing languages was one of them,operating different engines was another and it became so important to me that my father taught me how to drive when I was 11 or 12.I spent my teenage years dreaming I was driving a car without a license,then as soon as I could get my license I got it,and then I started dreaming I would pilot airplanes next.I remember as a kid watchingThe Shiningover and over again,and there's this scene with the Caterpillar the mother doesn't know how to start,and I thought I needed to learn how to learn to drive a caterpillar in order to be ready for life.When I hear someone in their 40s doesn't have a license it makes no sense to me.Lale is a bit like that,she's one of those girls who becomes obsessed with driving so she will be able to leave.When you're driving you have a literal impression of being in command of your fate and destiny,which isn't necessarily masculine.

I also thought in terms of how Lale taking all her sisters to a soccer game,or is that something more cultural?

In Turkey at the time between 2011-2014 you had these soccer games where only women could go.Soccer is huge in Turkey and people go there to decompress,but it became a regular thing that the hooligans would get into fights,so the Soccer Federation established that fans of certain teams would be banned for a number of matches,depending on the gravity of what they'd done.If they'd bitten or attacked the referee for instance...so normally those matches would be played in empty stadiums.In 2011 they changed that rule,so that only women and children under 12,so on the first game they were thousands of women packed into those stadiums.It was surreal.

You're deconstructing all the symbolism I saw in the film with very practical explanations.

No![Laughs] In some ways there are some very metaphorical things,the soccer game can be the equivalent of a fairy tale ball for instance.It's a fairy tale thing,but it's also anchored in a social reality.

I guess no filmmaker wants to make didactic movies,and yours is certainly too good for that,but most of the problems in the plot arise from a lack of sexual education.Are you interested inMustangbeing used to promote better sex ed?

I didn't think of it in terms of just sexual education,it was about general education.We were depicting a society in which sexuality is coerced,and anything sexual outside of marriage is completely demoniac.

It's also so interesting how you subvert audience expectations,we see someone like the character of Yasin for instance,who in a different film would've been a threatening figure,and inMustangbecomes someone Lale can confide in.Were you looking to change how we perceive certain characters?

I never had that projection on Yasin,of course,the first encounter between the two is very strong,but then he becomes an ally.

The film played in Cannes and has had a successful festival run so far.Now it's been selected to represent France at the Oscars,亚博主页how has this experience been?

The film has been embraced in France very warmly,ever since we finished post production and were selected for Cannes,as a filmmaker I owe everything to France,I went to a film school called La Fémis,which is a State school,where you do film after film for four years in exceptional circumstances.The people who come and help you are other filmmakers,so we're literally growing up as filmmakers in the eyes of the industry.France has become extremely open in terms of production,there was no difference in how my film which is in Turkish was received compared to the Audiard for instance.In France we also see French producers working with directors like Abbas Kiarostami and other directors who exist because of that partnership.Then we have the Cannes Film Festival,which is a place where you look passionately at film and it opens all the corners of the world.Then we have the French audience who massively goes to see films in foreign languages,they are curious and eager.We have this chain,which is bold and radical and says "we embrace you,with your different origins".It stands behind the values of the film and stands behind the broadness of what French identity can be today.It's something I consider a big responsibility.When we heard the news about Oscar we jumped to the ceiling,but we did a double take and thought how it's a big responsibility and we're committed to doing our best.

I don't think it's a coincidence that two of the best films I've seen all year are French productions,directed by women,with plots that revolve around women.

Which ones?



….and Céline Sciamma'sGirlhood.

Ah!We went to the same film school.

They're both such beautiful films and I'm sure you'll hear people bring this up in America all the time,but it's so refreshing to see films about women,who also happen to not be white.So let me ask you,what are they putting in the water in French film schools?

(Laughs) I guess in Céline's case,and this is a total projection,she was one year ahead of me in school,and she was a screenwriter with my close friend Jean-Baptiste de Laubier who is going to do his first film shortly...maybe he'll have something in his water as well!I think we just wanted to make films about people who looked like us.Finally taking the microphone,so of course it's refreshing!

I love that this was encouraged in your film school.

We are encouraged to do whatever!We're considered a very intellectual cinema,people like Arnaud Desplechin and Pascale Ferran who also went there are considered real intellectuals,but in our generation we broke that image,we're intellectuals who can make jokes and jump around.There's something funny about some directors,especially in Turkey,they have a helluva attitude,they're serious and have no sense of humor,and their films look like them.But I come around and at the end of the day I'm all about stupid jokes.At the end of a day of shooting,you're exhausted and you want to do jokes.We're touching some important,gloomy subjects in our films,so we wanna do it with life and fun!There's not just one way of being a director or looking at the world.

Mustangis now playing in theaters.
Related:foreign film coverage,foreign Oscar Charts,andprevious interviews

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Reader Comments (6)


Love how jjl's name is pushing the male cast members out of the way.she commands respect.

November 20,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

I'm so impressed that this is France's submission - can't wait for it to open!
Great interview!

November 20,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

You are crushing it with these interviews,Jose!Great work!

Mustang is definitely high on my must list!

November 20,2015 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Yeah,this series is really one of the most remarkable the Film Experience has ever done.亚博主页

November 20,2015 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Awesome interview.Thanks a lot

November 21,2015 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Great interview Jose!I haven't read it until now,because "Mustang"is finally opening this week in my country.I saw the film yesterday and I loved it!and now I really liked your interview,many thanks for sharing it with us!

February 23,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

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