The storyline is rather simple and seemingly banal. Three young sisters (Reyhan, Nurhan and Havva) all live with their father in a very remote village in central Anatolia (right in the heart of Turkey). Their existence is precarious and primitive. The local mine has recently collapsed, leaving the villagers devoid of their main trade. Tending herd is now their sole source of income and means of survival. The three girls are sent away one by one to work as housemaids for the local doctor in a nearby town. They all return for different reasons. Howeve, each one of them retains the desire to leave for good inside them. They have an aunt in Ankara, and they often dream of living with her. They want a way aout.
Reyhan has married a local man called Veysel, who is neither very intelligent nor very courageous. He is scared of the dark, and freaks out while watching the herd at night. Veysel too dreams of departing. He asks the doctor for a job, claiming that he’s willing to do anything, “even cleaning toilets”. One evening, Veysel’s lack of social skills mixes with raki (the local alcoholic beverage), and the outcome is very toxic. He has a very big argument with his father-in-law and the doctor. Veysel feels increasingly isolated. One night he snaps, and a horrible accident happens. The consequences are life-changing.
The remoteness and isolation of the villagers in emphasised in the opening sequences, as a car drives up the mountains with one of the girls on the backseat. The long and winding road surrounded by little more than dust and rocks suggest that you’re about to enter a different planet, detached from our very own world. The rustic landscape is absolutely breathtaking, with a few modest stone houses neatly cobbled and huddled together. The mountains above and below often blend seamlessly with the misty skies and clouds.
The interiors are equally spectacular in their rusticity. A huge cauldron sheltered a stone fireguard provides the family with hot water and heat, while a barrel handing off the ceiling swings back and forth in order to produce ayran (a Turkish yoghurt drink). The warm lighting provides a soothing atmosphere to the story. This is the type of movie so thoughtfully and gingerly made that virtually each frame could be turned into a painting.
The beauty of the village does not no unnoticed. The doctor envies the villagers because of the peace and quiet that they enjoy in their impoverished yet idyllic environment. Conversely, the villagers enjoy the doctor because of his perceived freedom, wealth and sophisticated lifestyle. “No one is ever happy with what they have”, the doctor puts it succinctly. The grass is always greener. The father jokes about it, too. He calls his daughters “three ingrate sisters”, and then laughs it off, apparently aware and accepting that their eventual departure is inevitable.
A Tale of Three Sisters is showing in competition at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival. A strong contender for the photography awards, but not for the main prize the Golden Bear, I would hazard a guess.