Interivew: Deniz Gamze Ergüven Talks ‘Mustang,’ Female Filmmakers, and Oscars

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dir-deniz-gamze-erguvenAmidst the chatter about the need for more female voices in cinema, it’s ironic how director Deniz Gamze Erguven’s tale of femininity corralled, “Mustang” has been compared to Sofia Coppola’sThe Virgin Suicides.” Based almost exclusively on one image the talk of the two’s similarities reminds audiences that female-centric films are almost always left competing against each other.

With the Academy Awards coming up in two weeks, where Mustang will compete as France’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film, Erguven sat down with Awards Circuit to discuss the film, her role as a female filmmaker, and the Sofia Coppola comparisons.

Awards Circuit: The talk surrounding Mustang and the positivity towards it has been great to see. The Oscars are rapidly approaching, how have you and the cast handled this ride so far?

Gamze Erguven: Lovely! The fact that we went from the shortlist to the nomination has been an absolute joy. The foreign language Oscar goes to a country and we’ve been picked up by France and I love it. Being the adopted child is a huge responsibility. We’ve been given this huge amount of trust and I want to be at the level of their trust. For me, I felt a little bit of pressure each time there was a new case we had to navigate through. It’s a feeling of happiness and relief, as well.

AC: I’m assuming as we get closer to the ceremony the nerves and tension only increases?

DGE: Absolutely, yes. But the great thing as well is the Oscars is the best possible spotlight ever, and it’s a universal tribune so that’s another big responsibility. All those preparations are extremely important whatever happens that night.

AC: I know critics have been comparing this to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. How do you respond to that?

DGE: Well, I know there’s one shot where the girls are completely intertwined in their bedroom. For me, the story’s

extremely intimate; I’m just like Lale, the youngest in a family of girls and women on two generations. After awhile that reference and question came a lot. I can’t say….I don’t know. The references are in other places for me.

AC: You’ve talked to so many writers and critics about this film. With so many people quick to latch on to comparing this to another film based on a single shot have you noticed any distinctions in questioning along gender lines?

DGE: I can’t tell you that. I know people who come all the way to me [for interviews]…people who have any kind of reservations about this film probably won’t come all the way to me unless I get huge. In Turkey I have a lot of aggressive and negative reactions, public reactions. The one thing around the life of the film is it resonates a lot with what’s happening specifically in Turkey today. The debate has been changing through the months according to what’s happening in the country.

AC: You previously mentioned when you talked to us last that “Escape From Alcatraz” was an influence on the film. Personally, I saw a lot of elements of the horror genre with the girls  getting “picked off,” one by one, into marriage. Did you always envision it as an escape film?

DGE: There was definitely the escape film. There was all those films with the house as a character that were in my mind, from “Psycho” to “The Shining” to “The Changeling.”

AC: Speaking of the house, what was the shoot like for this because so much of the film revolves around interiors. How did you encapsulate the increasing claustrophobia?

DGE: There was something about the life; the beginning of this film is glorious and sunny and extremely alive. You have the five girls – for me they’re one character with five heads – and at the beginning of the film they’re at the top of their strength. Then a piece of that body with five heads is taken away and each time the girls manage to strike back.

In the meantime they get smaller and feel more fragile, and are guided to a part of the film which is darker. The shots feel darker and smaller, so we’re given the impression we’re going through a tunnel until the end. There was something about telling through the frames and the lights the movement of the film.

AC: This is only one of two films directed by a woman this Oscar season. How do you respond to being one of those breaking through in a landscape where women directors are still in the minority, especially during this time?

DGE: The good thing is we’re talking about it because this is the way it has been for me and how it looks for me ever since I made short films. I started in 2002 and I know everywhere I’ve been, from film school to programs where you develop your first feature film. I was with the co-writer of Mustang [Alice Winocour], we were the only two girls, and it has always been like that; I was either the only director, as at the Golden Globes, or one of the two.

Tugba_Sunguroglu,_Ilayda_Akdogan,_Doga_Zeynep_Doguslu,_Elit_Iscan,_and_Gunes_Sensoy_in_MUSTANG.photo_courtesy_Cohen_Media_Grou (1)That’s something which is so much a part of filmmaking everywhere in France, in Turkey, in the United States. But the great thing is we’re talking about it now. All this discussion about diversity will eventually trigger change. It’s not just a question of equality and wanting to have the same amount of directors – it’s not just that. Cinema has a huge impact on the way we shape our society, on the way people look at the world, and the fact it’s missing the perspective of half of humanity or the point of view of minorities is obviously narrowing our own perspectives. So the fact that having female filmmakers or more diverse filmmakers is fundamental. Society’s getting smarter, so the question, for me, is deeper than just the question of equality.

Then, for example, the other diversity debate; I’m not sure about boycotting because if you’re boycotting it’s as if you’re muzzling yourself. In the rare event of a nomination, someone boycotting would be unfair for them, too. And the place where there are awards of merit is really not a place where you enjoy having protests either because it would feel as if you wouldn’t completely deserve it.

The place where the measures need to be taken very strongly is at the moment of production; that’s where you decide to have woman characters that don’t look like female figures out from the ’60s and where you can have values which are never given to women like strength, courage, intelligence; all those things that’s where you put your female characters, and that’s where you put your actors where you can feel like there’s a level of prejudice towards one group or another.

AC: After the Oscar ride is over, what happens next? Will you continue to focus on female stories?

DGE: We’re have this important meeting tomorrow that I’m extremely excited about – a possible collaboration with an actress and that’s a project I’m very passionate about. I won’t go into the detail of what that is right now. It’s a female perspective again, but that’s the way I look at the world.

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