Just when we are all thinking about Paris, France’s entry for the best foreign-language Oscar is arriving in theaters. The odd thing is that it’s not in French. “Mustang” is set in Turkey and the characters speak Turkish. The young French-Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven shot it around Inebolu in northern Turkey, a beautiful region that borders the Black Sea.
The film opens with children spilling out of school, and several girls saying goodbye to a beloved teacher who is moving to Istanbul. A bunch of boys and girls then head to the beach, wrestling and shrieking and noisily enjoying their emancipation for the summer. When five of the girls tumble into a large house to face their grandmother’s wrath, we understand that these orphaned sisters have broken a potent social rule. They have been seen riding on boys’ shoulders through the surf and that forces their grandmother to take serious steps to protect their virtue. An uncle who lives with them is enraged at their defiance and angry at his mother for letting them run free. The girls do seem to have a wild streak, which is enhanced by their number.
The five sisters range in age from 17-ish to the youngest and most rebellious, Lale, who may be 11 or 12. First, they lose their cellphones and computers. Then their grandmother and her peers begin to give them cooking lessons. “The house became a wife factory,” Lale (Gunes Sensoy) says in a voiceover. Step by step, they become prisoners in their home. Bars are put on the windows. They are forced to trade their jeans and T-shirts for shapeless brown dresses when they go out. Their grandmother (Nihal Koldas) begins to make matches: the oldest marries her longtime boyfriend, the second is paired with an older village boy she barely knows. When the third girl rebels, the film takes a dark turn.
Erguven’s deep sympathy for the sisters and her outrage at the repressive society in which they live limits her storytelling at times. The sisters exist as a unit rather than as individuals. The only one we get to know in some depth is Lale; the others blur into dark-haired victims. Their total devotion to each other isn’t credible either. Where do five siblings exist who never argue or undermine each other? The hint of sexual abuse stacks the deck even further, and the episodic nature of the film makes for slow going at times.
Still, although this film is not perfect, it does make its feminist point powerfully. Little by little, these girls, so full of life and joy at the beginning, are pushed ever more forcefully into the little box set aside for women in the place they live.
Israel’s Silenced Voices
“In war, we all become murderers.” This obvious, ugly truth is stated by one of the men interviewed in Mor Loushy ‘s documentary “Censored Voices.” The film presents for the first time the uncensored recordings of conversations between Israeli soldiers and to-be-renowned author Amos Oz immediately following the 1967 Six-Day War. The Ophir (Israeli Oscar) winner for Best Documentary, “Censored Voices” was selected as the opening night film of the Other Israel Film Festival at the JCC in Manhattan and is now screening in New York.
The Six-Day War was a brilliant triumph for Israel, and Jews around the world celebrated with the youthful Jewish state. It was also when Israel conquered Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, finding itself in control of millions of Arabs. People who viewed themselves as victims found they were victors. Almost immediately after the war ended. the army agreed for Amos Oz, himself a soldier, to interview men who had recently returned from battle, focusing on “not what they did but how they felt.”
Loushy shows us these elderly men, almost all Ashkenazi kibbutzniks, as they listen to their youthful selves reflect on their experiences. Almost none feels triumphant or validated. Now in their seventies and eighties, they have the dispassionate remove some of the old exhibit–their fight is over; someone else has to deal with the fallout. Most of the men recall their fear and panic during the battles and almost none remember feeling exultant about their conquests, especially the Western Wall. Of course, these soldiers were fiercely secular at the time, and seem to remain so. These are the anti-settlers, Israelis who seem bewildered by what has happened to their country.
“Censored Voices” is well made and affecting, but it’s unlikely to change anyone’s mind. Loushy does not pretend to be dispassionate about her material. She concentrates on stories of brutality, on the difficult choices very young men are forced to make in battle. Interviews with soldiers from different backgrounds would have produced other perspectives. War is horrific and dehumanizing, and yet it is always with us. It is useful to remember the cost, both to others and to ourselves.
Love Those New Yorker Cartoons?
If you subscribe to The New Yorker primarily for the cartoons, you’ll enjoy “Very Semi-Serious: A Partially Thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists.” A large percentage of these artists are Jewish, though the director Leah Wolchok doesn’t focus on that. She follows cartoon editor Bob Mankoff as he goes through submissions from regulars and newcomers and listens to pitches from old and young, rejecting many of them. The interviews with New Yorker regulars, such as Roz Chast and Mort Gerberg, are funny in themselves. “Getting teased is a prerequisite for cartooning,” one of the artists says, and they are indeed a nerdy bunch. But they are funny, funny, funny, and the cartoons they have created sometimes rise to high art. In some theaters in New York, and on HBO in early December. A quirky look at an unusual corner of publishing and art.