TURKISH DIRECTOR Deniz Gamze Ergüven's Mustang is about the ways patriarchy oppresses women. It's set in Turkey, but the specific cultural context matters less than the general one: It could take place in any country or historical era where women's access to wealth, education, and physical autonomy is completely controlled by men.

Five orphaned sisters live in a small town, in the home of their paranoid grandmother and abusive uncle. When a neighbor spots them playing in the ocean with their schoolmates (boys!), the scandal marks a turning point in their young adulthood. The girls, who are joyfully free in the film's opening scene, see their world collapse in on itself: Bars appear on the window of their room. They're banned from school, prohibited from seeing their friends, and confined to home until they can be married off (virginity intact, natch).

Mustang takes pains to point out their lack of options, their utter vulnerability at the hands of the forces that constrain them: No one is looking out for these girls, and it's pretty hard to plan an escape if you can't even drive a car. Each sister navigates a slightly different path, from resigned acceptance to outright defiance. One of the five even marries for love, though the form and conventions of her marriage are indistinguishable from the loveless marriages arranged for her unwilling sisters.

Mustang's thesis is pretty explicit: Let's not sell little girls into marriage-slavery! And when faced with the two divergent paths the film proposes—with education and equality for girls on one side, and perpetuation of a system that enslaves and abuses them on the other—I'm pretty sure we're all gonna land on the side of education and mobility. Politically, that's great; cinematically, that stance generates so little friction that it's not altogether compelling to spend two hours exploring it.