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Deniz Gamze Ergüven • Director

"In film, there are no borders"


- The Turkish director talks to us about the making of her first film, Mustang, the undisputed revelation of Directors’ Fortnight at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Deniz Gamze Ergüven  • Director

Two weeks after the success of Mustang [+see also:
film review
interview: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
film profile
in Directors’ Fortnight at the 68th Cannes Film Festival, where it was awarded the Europa Cinemas Label, we met with Deniz Gamze Ergüven in Paris to get to the heart of her first feature film, which was produced by Parisian company CG Cinéma with Germany and Turkey, is being sold worldwide by Kinology, and is due to be distributed in France on 17 June by Ad Vitam.

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Cineuropa: How did you choose the subject matter of the film?
Deniz Gamze Ergüven: I really wanted to show what it means to be a woman, a girl, in Turkey, this sort of never-ending screening that starts very early on. The first sequence, in which we see the girls playing in the sea, climbing on the shoulders of the boys, is something I experienced and was completely humiliated by, whilst my characters react in a more rebellious way. The project was driven by my desire to show everything I wanted to do and say when I was younger, giving my characters the courage that I never had.

This is a rather dramatic subject that you approached in a very dynamic way.
It quickly became exhilarating. Once I’d given the girls so much courage, I certainly didn’t want to punish them, so they had to win. As a result, we went from something very gloomy to something very bright and upbeat. We also had very lively actresses, like mustangs, the mustang being a metaphor for beauty, freedom, energy and the untameable.

How did you use the evocative setting to allow the huis clos to breathe?
As soon as we had the screenplay ready, we knew we wanted to tell a story, to move away from naturalism. The uncle is a sort of Minotaur in his maze, the girls are like a hydra, a body with five heads of very different dispositions that allowed me to explore the five possible fates of one woman on different levels. For the set we found the ideal location, a place with an unsettling feel to it characterised by peculiar architecture – big houses reminiscent of those in fairy tales – and local traditions such as burying the dead in gardens, giving it an element of fantasy.

What were your intentions in terms of direction?
I wanted something quite open and very upbeat at the beginning of the film, becoming progressively darker as the story goes on. I also wanted very dynamic staging as the girls are always on the go. We set up a space in the house that would allow me to construct my shots, with lines of perspective and views from the windows of very specific things (the road, other houses). I had the perfect dolls house to play with.

What about the production of the film, it was rather eventful was it not?
I met Charles Gillibert when I left La Fémis, and he was the first producer I showed the screenplay for Mustang to. Back then, though, he didn’t have his own company. So we involved another French company in the project. Two years went by and everything went well, but then we realised three weeks before we were due to start filming that we were seriously short of funds. So I called Charles and three days later, he had agreed to pick up the project. Very quickly, he changed the French distributor, the international seller, and managed to pick up extra funding from French television networks. He did it all with unshakeable determination and calmness.

To what extent are you tied to Turkish film?
In film, there are no borders. I’m now working on a new project in Turkey, but before that I wrote a story set in Los Angeles, in the Afro-American neighbourhoods of South Central. As it was an English-language project though and I’m not Afro-American myself, it was impossible to convince anyone to take it up. To get funding for my first feature film, I needed a project like Mustang, for the characters to resemble me, for people to know that I was drawing on my own experience. In the future though, I hope I will have the freedom to be able to shoot in locations other than Turkey.

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(Translated from French)

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