Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/director Deniz Gamze Erguven admits to being inspired by Sophia Coppola’s 1999 The Virgin Suicides (though this is not a remake), and by offering us a rare glimpse into the lives of five sisters in a rural community in Turkey, it’s clear why the film has been so well received at film festivals – culminating in an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. It’s a bit confusing that the film is credited to France (Ms. Erguven’s current place of residence) as it takes place in Turkey and is performed in Turkish. But of course, country of origin is a minor ripple in this year’s uproar over diversity at the Oscars.
Not being any type of expert in Turkey culture or customs, I must accept that the insights provided by Ms. Erguven and her co-writer Alice Winocour are somewhat accurate, which makes the balance between the tradition of female oppression and the amazing spirit of the girls so relatable for many. What begins as a seemingly harmless game of chicken the girls play with some classmates (boys) on the way home after the semester’s last day of classes, turns into a series of events that most will find absolutely unacceptable. The shame brought to the family and the threat of the girls being “spoiled” highlights the extreme reactions from their grandmother (Nihal G Koldas) and Uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan).
Lale (Gunes Sensoy) is the youngest of the sisters and in the end proves to be the toughest and most independent. And that’s really saying something. We take in much of what happens through Lale’s expressive eyes, and we as viewers long for reasonableness to enter their lives. After being what can only be described as imprisoned in their own home, the spirit of the girls collectively and individually becomes clear. They find ways, small and large, to rebel … but it’s soon enough clear that the mission is to marry the girls off before it’s too late (there’s that “spoiled” thing again).
As Lale witnesses what her older sisters are subjected to, and how happiness or their own wishes play no role, she becomes more determined to avoid such destiny. With skewed perspective, one might make the argument that Grandmother and Uncle are doing what they think is in the long term best interests of the girls, but the Uncle’s despicable actions void any such thought. Instead we are left to marvel at the strength and spirit of the girls in world that holds them in such low regard as individuals.
Lale’s sisters are Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu), Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu) and Ece (Elit Iscan). The girls are so natural together that we never doubt their sisterly bond. They argue like sisters, defend each other as sisters, and play together like sisters … were it not for their isolated existence, their bond would be a joy to behold. The cinematography throughout the film adds to the discomfort and dread we feel, and the acting is naturalistic and believable. In the end, it’s the unbridled freedom of the titular creature that Lale defiantly embraces … whatever the consequences may be.
watch the trailer: