The last few years have seen Turkey go into a conservative tailspin. The 2013 Gezi Park protests saw passionate — and besieged upon — activists attacking restrictions on freedom of the press, secularism and women’s rights. But it’s still, actress Elit Iscan tells us, a very mixed society. Iscan may be one of the five young stars of “Mustang,” a film following teenage girls put under house arrest by their traditionalist uncle and grandmother. But Iscan says that’s not her life.
“My family is very modern. They’re not trying to put me in an arranged marriage,” Iscan tells us. She’s been allowed to be independent. In fact, she’s spent much of her life traveling, even before she went on a global press tour for the film, which premiered at the Director’s Fortnight section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Still, she’s very aware that her life is not typical. “There are families in Turkey still raising their children the conservative way,” she says. “Political figures talk a lot about what women should do. They make speeches on TV saying women should have three children, that they better stay at home to take care of them, that they don’t need to work, that they better not go out when they’re pregnant. I’ve never been made to think this way by my family, but I definitely experience it from the government.”
“Mustang,” which was produced in France (and is the country’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar), was not only directed by a woman, Deniz Gamze Erguven, but one who was pregnant during filming. They shot in seaside Turkey, among locals who may not all, Iscan says, been aware they were making what amounts to a political movie.
“Some people did not trust her,” Iscan reveals. But Iscan did. Erguven would make each of her five young actresses — whose very close-knit, isolated characters she described to her stars as “coming from the same spaceship” — watch certain movies that would help define them. Iscan got Ingmar Bergman’s “Summer with Monika,” about a free-spirited woman, and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Vivre Sa Vie,” in which Anna Karina tries to navigate the world of men only to be destroyed.