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A Tale of Three Sisters | Film Review: Dreams and TrapsTurkish director Emin Alper orchestrates a subtle (perhaps too subtle) condemnation of the besleme tradition in his A Tale of Three Sisters Anatolia-based drama.

Yes, it's a Chekhovian premise, but in a twisted form: the three sisters really wish to go to the big city, but have already been there. They were sent back to their own village (ominously photographed from the first shot), and now wish to return. What this interesting concept brings is not developed in a single, coherent way by Turkish director Ermin Alper, but this in no way makes it insignificant.

A Tale of Three Sisters (Kiz Kardesler) explores the now almost extinct tradition of the ‘besleme’ Anatolia girls, who were sent to the big city to become both foster children and maids. The three girls of the mild authoritarian and rather negligent father Şevket (a very fitting Müfit Kayacan) have their own reasons not to be happy with the almost magical lit, but still barren environment of their small and isolated village. Reyhan (Cemre Ebüzziya) has always a piercing look, ready to burst out about her current predicament, but also a baby to feed; the particulars of her dismissal from the house she worked (an unwanted pregnancy) made her confined to the rather dimwit shepherd Veysel (Kayhan Açıkgöz). Veysel is an ultra-sensitive soul to spirits and their sounds, but Reyhan's marriage to him is the easy solution to hide from unnecessary gossiping.

Nurhan (Ece Yüksel) has her own sense of magic to fill in, but also her own worries. Sent to the same household run by Mr. Necati (Kubilay Tunçer), she's the one to get temperamental but also fragile; finally, the younger sister Havva (Helin Kandemir) seems the most practical of the three, and the future-to-be successful town lady. To be honest, and due to great shots by Apler and his cinematographer, Emre Erkmen, anything is better than this surrounding fortress of mountain tops, which makes its characters like ants in an Allah-forsaken place.

Both the tone and story in A Tale of Three Sisters somehow won't put all its elements in perfect sync. Magical realism is one of them, and the one frequently invoked; somresaults are performed by a female village inhabitant, usually as interludes to the story, and Nurhan herself will take dust out of the stone house walls, and eat it as a remedy for her own worries. This seems to be at odds with the very palpable psychological realism and the feud which erupts between the three sisters (who can become the best besleme). A Tale of Three Sisters always simmers, but sometimes erupts without warning -becoming more tragic before finally lead to abandonment and a silent evocation of the past. But even though it won't always hold aligned both its chiaroscuro sensitivities and a larger character drama vista, every bit of the film matters for its sincere effort to create an ensemble out of  snippets of distinct character behaviors.

Music and sound design offer a much-needed relief to the characters' palpable angst, while the three sisters themselves still remain closeted inside a patriarchal society (with its own internal class divisions between men as well).  A Tale of Three Sisters won't glorify misery for its own sake, and it really wants to take a stand against fake dreams and desires. While it does not exactly achieve that feat, its take on trapped personal relations and expectations is arresting.

A Tale of Three Sisters, 2019
Written and directed by Emin Alper
Producers:  Nadir Öperli, Muzaffer Yıldırım / Co-producers Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski, Maren Ade, Stinette Bosklopper, Yorgos Tsourgiannis, Lisette Kelder, Enis Köstepen / Co-production Komplizen Film, Berlin /Circe Films, Amsterdam / Horsefly Productions, Athen

Cemre Ebüzziya (Reyhan), Ece Yüksel (Nurhan), Helin Kandemir (Havva), Kayhan Açıkgöz (Veysel), Müfit Kayacan (Şevket ), Kubilay Tunçer (Necati), Hilmi Özçelik (Village Headman), Başak Kıvılcım Ertanoğlu (Hatice)

Cinematography Emre Erkmen
Editing: Çiçek Kahraman
Music: Giorgos Papaioannou, Nikos Papaioannou
Sound Design: Jos van Galen
Sound :Marcel de Hoogd
Production Design: İsmail Durmaz
Costumes: Alceste Tosca Wegner