Mustang, 2015

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The spiritual cousin to The Virgin Suicides, Mustang, directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, is a stunning and haunting film that is currently my favourite release of the year. It takes place in a remote Turkish village and centres on the lives of five young sisters, who live with their grandmother, and the hurdles they face navigating life under the restrictive rules of patriarchy. At the beginning of the film the sisters are playing a game with some local boys, the consequences of which are dire and the catalyst for the rest of the movie: they are imprisoned in their own home, not even let out for school.

From here, the film is frustrating and freeing by turns as we see the girls rebelling, striving for freedom, but almost always thwarted by their family. It feels more like a series of vignettes, thread together both thematically and by pivoting around the sisters, than a traditional beginning, middle, end structure.

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The scenes of the girls playing, finding ways to entertain themselves (reminiscent of the previously mentioned The Virgin Suicides), protecting each other, growing frustrated with each other, and so on are lovely and very real. It is easy to empathise with the girls, not just because of the extremity of their situation, but because of the moments like these. All of the young actresses playing the sisters are fantastic, particularly Lale (Günes Sensoy).

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Unlike The Virgin Suicides, in Mustang we get very close to the sisters, we’re not removed by way of seeing them through someone else’s eyes. They’re not unsolvable mysteries here – they’re girls with all that entails. They’re real.

I like that some of the shocking moments and revelations play out offscreen or are just hinted at – it increases the uneasiness having to piece it together for yourself, having to speculate, think ‘is that what’s really happening?’ It also plays out this way because the film is largely seen from Lale’s point of view and so we are mostly privy to what she sees and hears. I wondered, at times, how much she understands, herself. (We do see scenes from other points of view, but not often).

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It does a good job of showing how sexualised girls’ bodies, girls’ actions, are, too. As previously mentioned, the girls are locked in their own home for playing a perfectly innocent game but, because they were sitting on boys’ shoulders, they are accused, among other things, of ‘pleasuring themselves’. The girls are mortified, indignant, at the accusation. It makes me think of all the times I’ve heard people say young girls shouldn’t wear certain clothes, shouldn’t dance certain ways, and so on, because they’re too ‘sexy’. How twisted is the world when it’s acceptable for adults to deem a child’s clothing or behaviour ‘sexy’ or sexual, often for the mere fact of her gender? But the film also shows that the girls don’t necessarily view their own bodies that way. For them, lounging in their underwear or bathers (as above) is just comfortable and playing a game is just playing a game. (Not to say that they are desexualised completely, either, but the point is still made that girls are sexualised, by the world outside, from a young age).

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I can’t write up a review without mentioning the cinematography and I have to say that it is breathtaking. I need to watch it again to appreciate it fully, as I had to concentrate on the subtitles, but it’s a beautifully photographed movie. There are a lot of tight shots of the girls together, highlighting their claustrophobic situation (both by being locked in literally by their family, and trapped by the rules of patriarchy) but it is not without breathing room.

The ending has been described as ‘too neat’ by some but after everything that happened in the film, it was more than welcome. I don’t want to give anything away, but it bothers me that hopeful endings are seen as unrealistic. I think they can be, but here it felt right and important (though it is not without its ambiguity, in my opinion). And it moved me, which is certainly not a bad thing.

If you haven’t seen Mustang, yet, it’s a must-see and currently screening in select cinemas around Australia.

 

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Hysteria, 2011

I’d like to note that this period/area of history is not my particular forte (I’m more well-versed in the history of cinema, fashion and visual art of the 20th century) so I can’t necessarily tell which bits are accurate and which aren’t. And this is more of a ramble than a review.

When I first heard about the movie Hysteria I was immediately intrigued – a movie about the invention of the vibrator? Starring one of my favourites, Maggie Gyllenhaal? Colour me yes! Since then my anticipation has grown and I’m so happy that I have a local cinema that will bring interesting films like this one to the city I live in so I could see it on the big screen. The film, directed by Tanya Wexler, is a not-entirely-fictionalised account of the invention of the vibrator, though looks a little more at the surrounding issues and centres on Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), who is frustrated with the archaic medical establishment he has to work in. He ends up working for a Dr Dalrypmle, and helps him treat his patients: generally upper (and possibly middle) class women who are suffering from ‘hysteria‘. The ‘pelvic massages’ Mortimer has to perform prove to be too taxing and he develops a bad hand cramp – this is where his gadget-minded friend (played by Rupert Everett) steps in and together they essentially invent the first vibrator.

Whilst the finer details are not always historically accurate the essential truth is there: it was invented to treat ‘female hysteria’ (a diagnosis which the audience learns, disturbingly, at the end of the film only ceased in 1952…and an accusation and assumption that I think is still often thrown around to silence women today.) It’s the exact kind of bawdy, nudge nudge wink wink British humour that I love – it’s sometimes very obvious but that isn’t necessarily always a bad thing in my books. The characters are over the top, at times, and there is an air of exaggeration to the whole film but it didn’t hinder my enjoyment. (I tend to like things a little on the hammy side, anyway.)

That at one point it essentially takes three men (wearing goggles, as seen above), one wielding the newly invented vibrator (though without this name) to give one woman a paroxysm (orgasm) perhaps speaks to the underlying idea of men’s ignorance and disbelief that anything but penetration from a man could bring a woman pleasure. And their complete ignorance, in fact, that what they were doing was sexual and not just merely a medical procedure. If it weren’t for Charlotte’s (Gyllenhaal) comments about the true nature of the procedure (ie she tells Mortimer that it is about sexual pleasure for the women) I wonder if this would seem more like using female sexuality just for the laughs, so to speak. Not, of course, that sex can’t be funny (but perhaps this is something to ponder at length, rather than in this quickly put together post.)

Of course, the subject of female hysteria is not inherently funny. In fact, the film hints at the mortifying consequences, such as institutionalisation and surgical hysterectomy in ‘extreme cases’ (as Charlotte is threatened with both of these herself but Mortimer comes to her rescue, which is slightly infuriating – that she is such a strong character but still needs to be ‘saved’ by a man because of the time? Or because of the conventions of romantic comedy? Of course this can also be seen that Mortimer finally realises that Charlotte was right all along and female hysteria is bunk and not simply the hero riding in to save the day).* Which is why the overall levity of the film was so important to me – it doesn’t make light of the situations that women would have faced but uses humour to highlight them. Comedy and comedians has been under scrutiny recently and I think it’s important to note that humour, whilst we can be critical of it and talk about things that many people (myself included) believe shouldn’t be joked about, can be a powerful tool to talk about important issues. Whilst Hysteria maybe doesn’t quite make it to groundbreaking territory and I felt like it could have done more with the subject, pushed the boundaries a little more, it’s still a breath of mainly fresh air in the genre of romantic comedy/historical comedy, which can be very stagnant and samey. Not that it doesn’t stick to certain rom-com conventions such as hate, or disagreement, turning to love, for one. Perhaps the film plays it a little safe in some respects but I don’t think it pretends to be anything other than a historical romantic comedy.

I always enjoy Maggie Gyllenhall onscreen and she tends to pick very interesting roles. She dons a British accent for this and she does a very good job (a bad accent will often just distract me from an entire film, no matter how great it is otherwise). She plays the passionate Charlotte extremely well. Oh, and Rupert Everett as the electricity obsessed aristocrat, Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe, is very funny and quite perfect in this role.

*I don’t know if this actually happened as I’ve only read the wikipedia article on female hysteria at present – I didn’t feel much like being enraged at past medical practices nor to think of any current parallels

Wikipedia | IMDB

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