×

Berlin Film Feview: ‘A Tale of Three Sisters’

Three sisters in a remote village dream of leaving the limited confines of their father’s home in this perplexing tale of limited appeal.

Director:
Emin Alper
With:
Cemre Ebüzziya, Ece Yüksel, Helin Kandemir

1 hour 47 minutes

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9418878/

In a small village in the mountains of northeastern Turkey, three peasant sisters uneasily reunite under their father’s rustic roof in Emin Alper’s opaque, oddly theatrical “A Tale of Three Sisters.” Stunningly lensed in widescreen amidst the rocky peaks, the film struggles to excite admiration outside the visuals, forcing the viewer to vainly search for what exactly it was Alper wished to achieve. Bearing no evident connection to Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” apart perhaps from the girls’ desire, like Irina Sergeyevna, to live in town, this ultimately uninteresting drama is undermined by characters of little discernible intelligence whose plight will leave many viewers apathetic, partly due to the way dialogue seems to be artificially recited rather than naturally delivered. Outside a few festivals and Turkish showcases, it’s hard to imagine who’ll buy this “Tale.”

Unlike Alper’s previous feature “Frenzy,” with its clear parallels to the political situation today, his latest is a hermetic drama lacking any perceptible alternate reading. The background is the dying tradition of “besleme,” a term encompassing foster child and servant, in which young girls from the countryside are placed with better-off households where they’re accorded nominal status within the family yet treated as servants. At the film’s start, 13-year-old Havva (Helin Kandemir) is returned to her father Şevket (Müfit Kayacan) following the death of her foster-brother. Though happy to see her sister Reyhan (Cemre Ebüzziya), 20, it’s difficult for Havva to transition from a middle-class lifestyle, even though hers was a servile role, to her isolated native village and its lack of amenities.

Reyhan was once in the same position, but it’s gradually revealed she was dumped back home after getting pregnant and then married off to illiterate shepherd Veysel (Kayhan Açıkgöz) in order to cover up her shame. Veysel is the film’s most problematic character, a cowardly, nasty idiot whose unpleasantness and limited dimensionality is the stuff of middling pastoral novels from another era. That he’s the catalyst for the narrative’s oddly downplayed tragedy is another hindrance to viewer involvement, since it’s such a challenge to accord him any understanding or sympathy.

Middle sister Nurhan (Ece Yüksel) is also back to roost when her foster father Mr. Necati (Kubilay Tunçer) returns her in shame — she’s been beating her charges for bed wetting, and her bullheadedness was finally too much for the family. Even at home she’s a handful, arguing with Reyhan and scraping what looks like lichen off the stone walls, which she gobbles up, presumably to get even sicker than she already is and thereby gain sympathy. Meanwhile, Havva’s angling to take Nurhan’s position with the Necatis.

As the three siblings argue or strategically come together, Şevket (also of limited intelligence) hangs out with the village headman (Hilmi Özçelik) and tries to figure out what to do with his daughters. Perhaps there’s a deeper meaning to it all, perhaps there’s a reason why the characters say their dialogue in such ultra-clear lines, with no overlapping, that it feels we’ve walked into the filmed version of a play. Could there be more Chekhovian parallels than meets the eye, and if so, what’s the point of Hatice (Başak Kıvılcım Ertanoğlu), a woman whose sole purpose is to gleefully somersault over hills?

At least those are glorious hills, and mountains, capped with snow and shot by Emre Erkmen in stunning color saturation and sharpness. Interiors convey a chiaroscuro effect influenced, according to Alper, by Dutch Old Masters, suggesting a darkened intimacy nicely contrasted with the expansive landscape with the village isolated against the barren majesty. Mournful musical accompaniment reinforces the general unhappiness.

Berlin Film Feview: 'A Tale of Three Sisters'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), February 10, 2019. Running time: 107 MIN. (Original title: “Kız Kardeşler”)

Production: (Turkey-Germany-Netherlands-Greece) A Liman Film, Nu Look Production, Komplizen Film, Circe Films, Horsefly Productions, in association with ZDF/Arte, with the contribution of Two Thirty-Five. (Int'l sales: The Match Factory, Cologne.) Producers: Nadir Öperli, Muzaffer Yıldırım. Coproducers: Jonas Dornbach, Jannine Jackowski, Maren Ade, Stienette Bosklopper, Yorgos Tsourgiannis, Lisette Kelder, Enis Köstepen.

Crew: Director, writer: Emin Alper. Camera (color, widescreen): Emre Erkmen. Editor: Çiçek Kahraman. Music: Giorgos Papaioannou, Nikos Papaioannou.

With: Cemre Ebüzziya, Ece Yüksel, Helin Kandemir, Kayhan Açıkgöz, Müfit Kayacan, Kubilay Tunçer, Hilmi Özçelik, Başak Kıvılcım Ertanoğlu. (Turkish dialogue)

More Film

  • UglyDolls

    STX Tries to Put Flops Behind It As It Searches For Star Executive, Fresh Capital

    After a series of film flops and an aborted initial public offering, STX Entertainment is battling mounting skepticism that it can survive in an increasingly unforgiving movie business. As it hustles to find $500 million in fresh capital, the company, which operates in the red according to financial disclosures, is simultaneously hoping to attract a [...]

  • Ryan Simpkins

    Ryan Simpkins Joins Fox-Disney's 'Fear Street' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Simpkins has joined Fox-Disney’s second installment of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Fear Street” trilogy, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. Leigh Janiak is helming all three films. Previously announced cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia [...]

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

  • 'Cats' Teaser Trailer: See Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift Unveils Feline Moves in 'Cats' Behind-the-Scenes Teaser

    Taylor Swift fans finally get to see some of the results of all those years spent studying her roommates Meredith and Olivia — and also, not incidentally, some time with a choreographer — in a new behind-the-scenes teaser for the movie “Cats.” The three-and-a-half-minute featurette has footage of Swift striking crouching feline moves as well [...]

  • CGR’s Immersive Premium Format Set for

    Immersive Theater Technology Set for US Debut in Los Angeles

    French multiplex company CGR Cinemas has selected the Regal LA Live as the first U.S. theater to use its Immersive Cinema Experience technology. The ICE format will be unveiled in the fall at the downtown location in a partnership between CGR and AEG. The companies made the announcement Wednesday but did not reveal which title [...]

  • Amazon Developing Original Series Based on

    Amazon Studios Buys 'Selah and the Spades,' Will Develop Original Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Amazon Studios has acquired worldwide rights to “Selah and the Spades,” a gripping look at a prep school drug dealer, Variety has learned. The film marks the feature debut of writer and director Tayarisha Poe and had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it was a favorite with critics. Amazon has [...]

  • The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con

    The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con Parties and Activations

    Hollywood is heading down the California coast to San Diego because It’s time for 2019 Comic-Con International. The annual cosplay celebration officially kicks off tomorrow, July 18, with a preview happening tonight. Here, Variety gives you a guide to this year’s parties and activations. Make sure to check back for updates. Wednesday, July 17Amazon Prime [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content