Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or VOD. As Oscar season draws near, this month I review two of the contenders.
Wow. I see a lot of movies. I always try to keep a dispassionate distance from the film, so I can give an objective review. Most critics do. I found that impossible to do with this film, however. It bit me, and my reaction was purely visceral. So what you read here is siphoned through that reaction. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
In the beginning of Mustang, the five Turkish sisters who embody the symbolic essence of the title are full of life. When we meet them, they are walking home from school, playing with boys in the sea, stealing apples from a neighbor (forbidden fruit!), enjoying each other’s company, and displaying the strong will and rebellion we find in most teenage girls on the planet. The verve doesn’t last.
They live in a Black Sea enclave with their strict Muslim grandmother and uncle (their parents have long passed), and when their grandmother finds out about their (mis?)-deeds, she beats them. Their uncle then begins to fortify the house as if they were in a prison. Grandma quickly gives them lessons in wifey-hood: cooking, cleaning, dressing, and sewing, and then begins to marry them off one by one. The first two, the oldest, go quickly. As the youngest of the bunch, Lale, and the sometime narrator of the film, adroitly puts it: “Two down.”
Despite the ugly content at times, the film emits a fairy tale brilliance: the cinematography is lush and verdant yet simple and understated, the music and silence engage in a melancholic ballet, and the acting chews. First time writer/director Deniz Gamze Erguven fashions a story that is both contemporary and timeless—channeling Austen and every other writer or filmmaker broaching the topic of young females trying to keep their independence while being pummeled by some type of dogma. Erguven is a Turkish national who now lives in France, and make no mistake, this film was mostly meant for Western audiences. It ignited a firestorm in Turkey. Is this the norm there? Of course that would be generalizing, but it is not generalizing to say that women in most parts of the world are overly sexualized and repressed. Erguven knows it and lived it.
I could say a lot more about the politics of the film: particularly examining the unforced marriage of tradition and religion that creates such a patriarchal Fascism in many parts of the world. Yet before we get to that point, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the beauty of the movies: we feel. And that is where we should start.
Starts Jan. 15 at Chez Artiste.
You will enjoy this film if you liked Pride and Prejudice (the book), The Virgin Suicides, and/or Girlhood.
Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones. And Amy Winehouse. Their commonalities are many: all were supremely talented, all were superstars thrust into the limelight while still very young, and all died when they were 27. Amy Winehouse is unfortunately one of the latest members of the club. In today’s 24-hour digital society, we have more non-stop access to stars, there is a bevy of extant material on them, and we can gaze into anyone’s personal life with shocking, and disturbing, ease. This documentary taps into that nerve: through a montage of video and audio interviews with her friends and family, still photographs, phone conversations, paparazzi footage, and turn-your-head-away-embarrassing moments, Winehouse’s life is chronicled in a new documentary by Asif Kapadia (Senna). It is one of the favorites for the Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Oscars.
We are all voyeurs. Whether we admit it or not, we all like to sit in our chairs, binoculars in hand, and watch people’s lives outside the window. Hitchcock knew we have an insatiable voyeurism, but he also knew there was a price to pay for such voyeurism. The story of Amy Winehouse is one we’ve heard before: a young, talented singer/songwriter is thrust into a superstardom that she can’t handle and then is undone by alcohol and drugs. Yet there is something intensely watchable about this film—perhaps because it is so recent, perhaps because of the close and immediate access we are afforded, or perhaps because the culpability may lead back to all of us.
There is no shortage of villains here: her mother, who dismissed her teenaged bulimia; her father, who nixed an attempt at sending her to rehab early on; and her husband, who turned her on to hard drugs and rode the co-dependency train with her. Of course Amy herself was no angel and the film doesn’t make judgments nor does it place explicit blame. It uses the non-narrative style Kapadia used before, leaving the narrating to the participants and Winehouse’s own lyrics. It is an interesting, well-made, sad, and disturbing documentary that serves as an example of our current society. Pick up those binoculars.
You will like this if you enjoyed Senna, Twenty Feet from Stardom, and/or Gimme Shelter. Now playing at various VOD outlets.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.