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Writer/director Deniz Gamze Erguven has given us a strong debut film. Co-written by Alice Winocour, this is a movie that combines comedy and tragedy — and is a lot more of a feminist statement than the disappointing Suffragette.
It starts with the last day of school, when five sisters walk home instead of taking the bus. They range in age from about 11 to 16, and they’re living with their grandmother and uncle. When some male classmates join them by the water, they all start splashing and innocently playing around. That concludes with a game of “chicken” (a girl on the shoulders of a boy, trying to knock down their opponents). It’s a game we’ve all played in swimming pools and oceans, but they live in Turkey. There’s a clash between the old traditional ways and modern times. And despite the strict rules imposed on them, these blossoming young women have a spirit that won’t be broken [I need to check, but I may have inadvertently stolen that line from the movie poster].
When they get home from their fun at the beach, Selma, Sonay, Ece, Nur, and Lale are scolded. No longer can they wear their more contemporary clothes in public, but the “sh*t colored clothes” the elder females have been wearing. The girls are also taken to the doctor to make sure their virginity is in tact, as the uncle doesn’t want them sullied before they can receive proposals. And yes, you will see some of those uncomfortable interactions.
You start to wonder if their grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas) or uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) will sympathize with any of these young women. They certainly show no affection for them.
As you’re rooting for each one of them, you wonder if anybody in the town will sympathize with their plight. As more and more bars are put up around the house (after the girls are discovered sneaking out), I started to think of the movie Dogtooth.
This young cast is stellar, but the youngest — Lale (Gunes Sensoy) — is just brilliant in her part. She’s also the bravest when it comes to testing all the boundaries and you especially worry about her fate. She’s the one instrumental in getting them to all sneak out to see a soccer game.
She gets friendly with a much older, long-haired guy who’s a truck driver. She sees him as a possible way to escape her northern Turkish town and into a life in Istanbul. As she narrates the story early on, talking about how the house was turned into a “housewife factor” in which they’re taught to cook and clean, we just think that’s how life goes in this country. Yet as more and more restrictions are imposed on them, we get uncomfortable. We also wonder, as different suitors (well, different parents of suitors) show up, what decisions these girls will ever have in life.
The cinematography is great, as well as the film score (and a few tunes by Nick Cave).
The movie has a few things that are hard to believe (sneaking out for the soccer match, for example). It gets a bit heavy-handed (politicians on TV making sexist remarks). It has a few too many contrivances as well.
Yet the movie moved me. It’s a powerful film. Don’t let the dark subject matter and subtitles freak you out.
3 stars out of 5.