alt="In a village in northern Turkey, Lale and her four sisters are walking home from school, playing innocently with some boys. The immorality of their play" border="0"/>
In a village in northern Turkey, Lale and her four sisters are walking home from school, playing innocently with some boys. The immorality of their play sets off a scandal that has unexpected consequences in "Mustang." (Cohen Media Group)

Given the cruel specifics of its scenario, it might be easy to take "Mustang" at face value, as a dramatization of real events intended as social commentary.

The story, set in a remote Turkish village near the Black Sea, concerns the plight of five orphaned young sisters, whose uncle confines them to the family home after they are spied frolicking at the beach with their male schoolmates. The behavior was innocent, but the patriarchal mandate insists they remain imprisoned for the sake of their virginity and be married off as soon as possible — unwilling captives, as one character puts it, of a "wife factory."

Although the film explores conservative traditions imposed by a male-dominated society, it also aspires to something more poetic and metaphorical.

"It's very much a fiction," said Deniz Gamze Erguven, whose debut feature, a co-production between France and Turkey, is the former country's submission for the 2016 Academy Award for best foreign-language film. "I needed something very far from any kind of naturalistic form. It has the quality of a (bedtime) story you would say to children."

The 37-year-old filmmaker, who has lived in both countries, was led to the narrative by a broader cultural perspective. "Growing up in France and Turkey, the experience of being a girl is just not the same," Erguven said. "There is this filter of some kind of sexualization of women that starts off very, very early."


She cited schools where boys and girls take different staircases to their classrooms. "It's a way of (sexualizing) every single moment in the life of girls and women, whereas going to a math class at 8 a.m. is really nothing close to sexual. That filter disturbed me the most."

The Mustangs, as the girls are collectively known, are played by Ilayda Akdogan (Sonay), Tugba Sunguroglu (Selma), Doga Zeynep Doguslu (Nur), Gunes Nezihe Sensoy (Lale) and Elit Iscan (Ece) - the latter is the only young actress with professional credits.

"I had a very strong idea of one character with five heads, 10 arms and 10 legs," said Erguven, who spent nine months in casting. In the script as on screen, Lale, the youngest, stands out. "She had this drive the others didn't have. She was this very exceptional figure among the others. But when they all came together, they all had that. It was a very complex little group."

Along with the Cannes Grand Prix winner "Son of Saul," the film has the most name recognition on the Academy Awards' foreign-language shortlist. The timeless nature of the story and the charisma of its cast would seem to transcend any language barriers.

"Even if they don't live in Turkey, people really like the film because the subject is really universal," Iscan said. "People can find something of themselves in the movie."

Browse photography at Denver.Gallery.