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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Mustang

by director/co-writer Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Mustang is fast, busy, and I have often felt that the momentum of the writing and the pace of the film were entwined in a way that urged each other forward. This energy is, for me, the heart of the film, like the wild horse that gave it its name. This film grew from my profound desire to tell of what it means to be a girl in Turkey today. I have always been struck by what a particular experience this is. The one thing I have in common with the narrator and main character of the film is to be the youngest in a family nebula of girls and women.

While the outlines of each situation are very real, the tone of the film is that of a fairytale. There is a mythical quality to the world as perceived by Lale and narrated by her voice, which lends its music to the film, establishes ellipses and gives the narrative a wholly subjective logic composed of sensations, impressions and memories. Mustang is first and foremost the story of a liberation and of Lale’s coming-of-age. There are obstacles and monsters to cross along her way. Lale has a very specific courage and strength, irreverent and untamable. It is important that in the end she wins, and in the most improbable and exhilarating way.

The photography of the film had to refract this light and glory by all possible means. Visually, for director of photography David Chizallet and I, it was crucial to express the radiance of Lale’s courage and humor in the face of darkening circumstances. The film opens on an age of innocence bathed with light and warmth. The lights and colors of the magic hours and broad warm sunlight have been the joyful caskets of all the scenes bringing together the five girls. And when night falls, it remains a dreamlike moonlight.

The ensemble of the five girls also generated its own solar intensity and liveliness. By the time we completed casting, I had already worked with each one of the girls individually, and had seen them in different combinations throughout long months. The relationships the film needed carried a set of gentle equilibrium between the characters we had to foster. And something clicked right into place as soon as we brought the five girls together. While acting together for the first time, the girls were plotting among each other and consulting with one another before making every next move. One of them, not always the same one, led the girls in a new direction. They quickly started to move and breathe like a single body. It was very clear that this body with five heads, this little Hydra, was our main character and that we should film it as such. In terms of photography, each frame is composed with this idea in mind. It terms of drama, it made each split among the group, each separation even more heartbreaking.

The original score of the film was composed by Warren Ellis. There was an aesthetical evidence in our collaboration, a coherence between our main settings: the wooden house, the wild coast of the Black Sea and Warren’s main instruments: the violin, viola and flute. Our encounter generated a crossroad between two cultures and two countries: Australia and Turkey. The encounter between the images of the film and Warren’s music have given our story its very own fictional territory.

Most of the film takes place in a single location: the house that slowly transforms into a bunker. It is an action film that takes place behind closed doors. Although the story unfolds within the domestic, familiar setting of a family’s home, the style is akin to a prison-escape film. In dramatic terms, Lale's story closely resembles Frank Morris' (the hero of Escape from Alcatraz)—a hero who, right from the start, refuses anything that threatens his freedom. The entire plot is based on the conflict of an extraordinary person who is determined to escape from a prison that no one escapes from. The characters fight back with whatever tools they have at hand. Throughout the film, the girls transform not just objects, but what they know how to do—which, first and foremost, are the domestic skills they have been taught—to help them escape. Like the prisoner she is, Lale explores every nook and cranny of her little Alcatraz. The house itself, like the village, turns into characters, even enemies. The girls' condition and the conflict with their family is strongly embodied in the film settings.