Emin Alper And The Beauty Of Everyday Life
Updated: Apr 5
By: Patrick Roy
Shot in a painteresque mythical structure, Emin Alper latest film, A Tale of three Sisters, is a transcendental representation of mundane life in a rural region of Turkey.
In Emir Alper latest film, A tale of three sisters , nothing will change. Everything is doomed to repeat itself, stuck in a timeless time. At Berlinale, I had the opportunity to talk with the director about this mythical atmosphere, its repetitive structure and its relation with politics. The goal was understand how can you make a mythical film, a film that transcends the boundaries, using scenes from everyday life? Can our everyday life, our dailiness, provide us with an opportunity to create something unique, unexpected and timeless? How can one bring out an ideal atmosphere from our mundane existence?
The interview shows that we need to examine the relation between the monotony of our everyday life and femininity.
By reading this interview, the reader can learn about different perspectives on the everyday monotony, on how we can fight , and that it is not only with unique locations and extraordinary lives and stories that we can make great films, but we can make a unique film out of our everyday life. We only need to change our perspective and be able to see life through a different lens.
Patrick Roy, UniversalCinema Magazine (UM): Some of the scenes in the film seem a bit theatrical in terms of acting. Do you agree?
Emir Alper (EA): Compared to my other films this one has a lot of dialogue and it takes place in mostly interior settings. I think there’s a real, serious handicap for the international audience because the way of speaking is very local, like their accents and phrasing, in a way that international audiences may not get. Turkish audiences find the dialogue to be very real and convincing so they don’t really feel this theatricality. For example, the way some of the girls act may seem exaggerated but when you combine it with the dialogue then it’s not so. Turkish audiences don’t think so but I’m afraid that it can appear a bit theatrical to international audience because not all of the dialogue can be translated easily. We are aware of that but we can’t help it because they are always speaking with very local idioms.
UM: Why did you decide to change your style?
EA: There are many reasons. First of all, I didn’t want to get bored of myself and my style because I was making political and allegorical films. Secondly, this was a story which I wanted to shoot many years ago so it was already in my mind. We call the situation of this kind of girl besleme in Turkish. This always attracted me and I wanted to write a story about it so I thought this is the time. The style actually came out of the story. First, I wrote the story and decided upon the style, which also explains why the style is quite different. I wanted to tell a story about a woman because the protagonists in my first films were men. I just wanted to challenge myself.
UM: Is there any relationship between this film and Chekhov’s Three Sisters?
EA: There’s a very loose relationship, especially since there’s a closer relationship with one of his stories, which is called “In the Pit.” Elvis from that story is my inspiration, though a loose one, I can say. I also always have Chekhov’s play “Three Sisters”in my mind.
UM: How many days did shooting last?
EA: It was five weeks - four weeks in autumn and one week in winter.
UM: Does that impact the production?
EA: Yes, of course. It was difficult. We finished the first part and then went back to Istanbul and waited for snow but that year unfortunately was not so snowy so it was quite tense for us. We waited for snow falls and then when it came we went to the location again. It was quite expensive and difficult for us.
UM: Are the performances rehearsed or do they include some actor improvisation?
EA: Since our time for shooting was limited we did a lot of rehearsals.
UM: There is a kind of fairy tale quality in the film.
EA: When I wrote the story it was the location that inspired me first of all, being a kind of fairy tale among the mountains. Then when I read the story that I wrote, I saw some parallels with the Cinderella story because in fairy tales there is always the hope of a better life and at the end the characters generally achieve that better life. This aspect of looking forward to a better life is what makes the film like a fairy tale. Of course, as I mentioned, the location was also appropriate for creating such a world.
UM: The visual imagery in your film is very beautiful. Were there any paintings or cinematic themes that inspired you to create them?
EA: I just wanted to combine two things. One was a harsh social realism and the other was a kind of fairy tale atmosphere. I thought that the best formula for combining them was to use a kind of Karaskol but a lighter version of it so that Dutch painters were our reference point with my DP. We wanted it to be a little bit dark to emphasize the poverty of village life but not to be stark. We wanted the colours to be less contrasting in order to stress this fairy tale
UM: There are very beautiful scenes made by fire in which we see the images of the sisters talking. Can you say a little bit about the shooting of these scenes?
EA: There are two important locations for me. One is the errant fire outside and one is the interiors. We shot both on location and thought that we should use the firelight to create this Karaskol image.
UM: So you mean that it was kind of natural light?
EA: A little bit, though it was strengthened by artificial light. The main source was nature but we also elevated it to balance it because you cannot always have that. I wanted to create parallel images - one in the interior and one outside – but in both scenes the main source of light is coming from the fire, which creates this Karaskol atmosphere.
UM: Why did you decide to shoot in this specific village?
EA: I wanted to shoot in a remote village to stress its isolation. I wanted it to be among the mountains and very far away from the town in order to help us create a bit of a fairy tale atmosphere. I did a lot of location scouting to find this place.
UM: What can you tell me about the music in your film?
EA: I wanted to use music that was not a very melancholic or vocal. I was sure that Greek musicians would be very good because I was a little bit afraid that Turkish musicians would make it too much like folk music, which I didn’t want. We had a Greek producer and from the very beginning I knew Greek music very well and that their musicians could do what I wanted. We found the Papayani Brothers and I sent them some references. Then they prepared this music which for me really reinforces the fairy tale atmosphere.
UM: You worked with Komplizen Film from Germany, Circe Film from Holland, and Horsefly Productions from Greece. How was it working in cooperation between different countries?
EA: It was very good. It was very cooperative. They were very helpful. Our cameraman was from Germany. They are Turkish originally but live in Germany. Our music and colours were made in Greece, we did the sound design and mixing in Holland, and we did the shooting in Turkey. It was a very good, productive collaboration.
UM: I sometimes hear that when a film is an international coproduction it can be more difficult and time consuming.
EA: That’s true. Of course, it loses a little bit and sometimes it’s a waste of time because you do something somewhere and then you move somewhere else and you think that you should change something, which means going back to Greece and changing the colour for example, and then going to Holland again to change the sound. This can be a waste of time and energy. You cannot always coordinate the best time between these countries but, of course, it’s very important because they give the resources. We lacked resources in Turkey because this film was not funded by the state so it was very important for us to get resources from these other countries.
UM: Speaking of Turkey and funding, is there any kind of fund available there to support young or independent filmmakers?
EA: Yes, there has been a public fund since 2004. I made my previous films with that fund but it has been more difficult to get in the past two or three years. Oppositional figures are especially quite excluded from these funds so I couldn’t find money for this third film and we shot it with private equity.
UM: And how did you pick these three girls for the main characters?
EA: We had long auditions and saw several girls.
UM: How did you decide that they were good for the scene? Did you ask them to play a specific scene?
EA: I asked them to play specific scenes separately and then to play together. First, we had several auditions with different combinations of the girls for the same scene.
UM: Some of the scenes seem to repeat themselves, such as when the father is telling stories. Can you talk a little bit about this artistic decision?
EA: This is a story of life cycling and recycling itself. It’s about village life, which is a kind of cycle. I think it enforces the idea of being trapped and unable to go out of a place with the only thing that you can do being to repeat yourself, repeat the same tales, and repeat the same jokes all the time. It’s one of the characteristics of rural life so I just wanted to emphasize it. We have some kind of repetition all throughout the film.
UM: Does this repetition have something to say about the current Turkish situation? Is there any kind of allegorical element?
EA: Yeah, we can say so. We are also repeating a kind of political cycles. Sometimes we feel that we are going in a better direction but then we start missing the good old days and we step back. In Turkey, many people have the same feeling of the cycle. I’m probably infamous because of this political cycle and I project the story through this life.
All of the characters in the film are resisting, trying to change something but they cannot. They again find themselves in this cycle. Actually, now I’m starting to think that this film also can be seen as a kind of allegory.
UM: The shepherd's character is an interesting one in the film. He seems to be a little bit different from the others with his silliness and the way that he acts. Can you say a little bit about his characterization and its meaning?
EA: Of course. Razel is a very important character. He’s the underdog of the village. He’s the loser of village life but he also has a strange feeling of honesty and he disturbs everyone with his honesty so his character is kind of a clown, like the disturbing clown in a Shakespearean tragedy. His role is more important because he kills the baby. He doesn’t kill the baby directly but it happens because he has been constantly humiliated by everyone in the film, including his wife and his father-in-law.
UM: The father does not seem to be deeply connected to his daughters. For example, one of the sisters just returned home and he’s thinking about how he can sell her off again to another rich guy. Can you say something about that?
EA: Actually, you cannot say that he is not affectionate to the girls. Of course he has affection for them but he thinks that the only way to get them out of the village is to sell them off. This is his limited horizon. He’s a very limited character because of the conditions but I cannot say that he doesn’t love his girls. This is the only thing that he can do.
UM: Although they are village girls, there are not very conservative. There is a very interesting scene in which the three sisters talk about sex and after that we see a very provocative representation of sex.
EA: Yeah, there’s a misconception that the rural life is really conservative but I don’t believe that. We generally tend to think that they don’t experience sex like the city folks but I know from my observations and experience that this is completely untrue. The rural woman has a very lively and interesting sex life, especially in some regions so I just wanted to show it. They can easily speak about sex and practice it. Sometimes this is even easier than for city people, unlike this conjured image of rural life. They can be very promiscuous.
UM: There are some things even in the landscape that are repeated, such as in the scene at the beginning. We see the village from far away and then at the end this shot is repeated but with the snow.
EA: Repetition is actually a leitmotif in this film, as I told you before. I use repetition to emphasize this cycle of village life as well as for stylistic reasons. First, you enter the village from a certain angle and then you go out from the same angle.
UM: The women in this film are not victim, although they live in village.
EA: I can say that the film presents a pre-feminist world since feminism is irrelevant in this rural life. They don’t even know the word. There isn’t any such formulation but the girls in the film are quite powerful even though they are all bent by the conditions of poverty and patriarchy. They are struggling. Each character is struggling but they are quite strong. At the end, some of them lose but maybe some of them win. We don’t know but we wanted to say that they are not just victims. Of course, they can be victims but at least they are resisting their fates. They really want to break the cycle. The father and some characters may be happy with this cycle of village life but the girls are not happy with it and they want to break it.
UM: When I watched the film it seemed like a story in which people were quite happy with their lives. As you said, there’s a possibility of change and struggle but that’s not something that defines them, everything is in between.
EA: Exactly. I agree with you. First of all, I didn’t want to romanticize the situation. Although the imagery of the setting is very beautiful and contributes to the fairy tale atmosphere, the characters are completely neglectful. I mean, they don’t care about nature. We don’t feel that they are happy or even aware of this beauty around them. On the contrary, they are constantly at war with nature. We can see it in the character Razel, who is not happy being alone in the mountains because he’s afraid of nature and even the wind. This reflects a kind of struggle, including the struggle for the girls, who think the place is bare. Although we think that it’s beautiful, they think that there’s nothing there so are forced to go out and even compete with each other, sometimes very harshly.
UM: God is not very important in the film and I only heard a reference to Allah at the end when someone was dying. Apart from that, there was no presence of God or any kind of religious impact on the lives of these girls.
EA: This is another misunderstanding or kind of a myth about rural life, which we typically think is very conservative. Actually, they are not. Conservatism belongs more to city Islam or town Islam, we can say, where the clergy is much more powerful, but because the rural people live very close to nature, their relationship with religion is very loose, at least in some regions. At least I can say that in the region where I grew up people pray and fast but apart from that God is only in their words. They’re not so religious.
UM: You mentioned the fact that the relationship between the characters and nature is hostile. There are some scenes like a character set against the whole landscape. I see the same approach, for example, in Berson when they wanted to use the landscape and its relationship with humans to say that humans are bounded by landscape and defined by it. However, you mentioned that this was not your concern here, please explain more.
EA: No, I think that there are two types of relationship between the characters and their environment. For example, when the men sit at the table and drink raki, they are surrounded by a wonderful environment but only the doctor from the city reacts. So I don’t think that all of the characters have a similar relationship with nature. I mean, you cannot tell by looking at the picture that these characters have the same relationship with the nature. The doctor says “Look at these mountains. I want to be like a shepherd.” He has this romantic image of it all but the shepherd says “No. It’s not like that, Mr Necati. It’s very hard. It’s very difficult and that’s why I want to go to city.”
In the big landscapes I generally try to keep the characters smaller, especially in the wide angles, such as in the scene where the guy is walking to the village inventor or when the car is coming from the small road. I just wanted to emphasize the remoteness and the very small existence of the characters in this hostile natural setting.
UM: The film seems very critical of the guy who lives in the city.
EA: I think that the film’s most critical stance is towards him, though he’s not a bad guy. I didn’t want to present him as a bad guy, though because of his class position he appears to be the least sympathetic guy among all of the characters since he’s in the most convenient place. However, he has kind of a soft heart, such as when he reprimands Razel but then regrets it. He’s quite soft to the middle girl, although he’s angry because she’s checking her son. However, the main thing is that it’s not his character because he’s actually quite mild. The reason why the doctor’s position is problematic from our perspective is that we generally see him from the perspectives of the underdogs, which are the village people. The most unpleasant comments in that sense come from doctors, I believe, so yeah, the film is critical but it’s more critical with respect to other characters. For example, some people say that Razel is a very unpleasant character but I don’t think so. Maybe it’s because Turkish audiences are likely to feel quite close to Razel and like his character. However, I heard that some foreign audiences find him to be repugnant. I didn’t aim to create such a character.