Wri/Dir: Emin Alper | Cast: Cemre Ebuzziya, Ece Yuksel, Helin Kandemir, Kayhan Acikgoz, Mufit Kayacan, Kubilay Tuncer, Hilmi Ozcelik, Basak Kivilcim Ertanoglu | Turkish, 108’
A tale of Three Sisters seems like a step backwards for Emin Alper who started his career with the outstanding psychodrama Beyond the Hill. Frenzy followed promisingly, an Istanbul set story of political turmoil.
This folkloric family fable sees him back in another rural part of Turkey, in an Anatolian mountainside village cut off from the modern world. Here three daughters are trying to escape to the capital Ankara, but are thwarted by their poor skillset and the domineering men in their lives.
Almost like a Grimm’s fairy tale the feature is imbued with a mythical quality tethered in old world customs and beliefs. There is even a village idiot who somersaults down the valley with a macabre grin – and teeth to match. But the lack of a gripping storyline sees the film rambling on for nearly two hours without a strong dramatic arc to keep us engaged.
Life goes on as it always has in this village unable to learn by its mistakes. The men drink coffee while the women look after the home. The eldest sister Reyhan (Cemre Ebuzziya) has just had a baby boy and is married to Veysal (Kayhan Acikgoz), a superstitious, embittered loser who we first meet tending his sheep on a cold winter’s night. He soon abandons the herd when confronted by two men looking to buy the fold. And his cowardly nature is the key to the second of the film’s minor tragedies unfolding in the underwhelming finale. Death, birth and illiteracy are the main setbacks for women in this patriarchal set up
Havva (Helin Kandemir), the youngest, and the middle sister Nurhan (Ece Yuksel) seem unable to be trusted with kids and have been dismissed from their care-giving jobs in Ankara by wealthy urbanite Mr Necati (Kubilay Tuncer) who controls everyone’s lot in the village. They have taken part in the Bessemer tradition whereby girls from poor families go to wealthier ones. But due to State changes these girls often never get away again and are abandoned forever in old world poverty. Their kindly widowed father, Sevket (Mufit Kayacan), is determined to find the girls other positions although they are semi-illiterate.
Before going back to Ankara, Necati enjoys an hilltop raki picnic with Sevket and the village chief. But an unfortunate contretemps develops with Veysal ending in a punch up. Angered and resentful, the herder goes home where he also upsets Reyhan with tragic consequences.
Shot on the widescreen the magical mountain panoramas dominate along with the hostile terrain and climate. DoP Emre Erkmen works wonders with the glowing interiors where dramatic colours compliment the girls’ heightened emotions echoed in the lilting tunes of folk singers and a tremulous violin score. MT
BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | COMPETITION