Three Stars Directed by Dina Zvi-Riklis. Written by Zvi-Riklis and Alma Ganihar. Hebrew title: Shelosh Emahot. 106 minutes. In Hebrew, French and Arabic. Some prints have English titles. With Gila Almagor, Miri Mesika, Rivka Raz, Raymond Amsalem, Tali Sharon, Tracy Abramovich, Dana Zilberstein, Yehezkal Lazarov, Yoram Hattab, Amos Tamam, Benni Avni, Yoram Toledano Dina Zvi-Riklis has made an ambitious, heartfelt drama about an unusual subject: three female triplets born to a Jewish family in Alexandria in the Forties who move to Israel after the death of their mother. The bulk of the film goes back and forth between their lives in Israel in the Sixties, when they are young women, and the present. In both stories, their lives are shadowed by a tragic secret involving loss and children. Three Mothers is restrained, carefully written and in good taste, but often veers uneasily into what is essentially soap-opera territory. Zvi-Riklis, who wrote and directed the film, can't seem to decide what tone she wants it to take. If it's meant to be a melodrama, it ought to be a little more outrageous and operatic. As a serious drama, it is occasionally marred by clich d scenes and strained situations. Zvi-Riklis' mother was part of a set of Egyptianborn triplets, and at times it seems as if Zvi-Riklis is trying to transcribe a family legend but can't quite figure out how to shape it into a drama. In the early scenes set in Alexandria, when King Farouk summons the triplets to give them his blessing, the film has a certain mystery and exoticism that dissipates as it progresses and moves on to Israel. The three girls are named after flowers - Rose, Yasmin and Flora - but although this suggests a certain fairytale tone, their lives are far from charmed. As they grow up, they come into conflict with their strict father (Yoram Hattab). Rose, in particular, who is played by Gila Almagor in later life and by Miri Mesika as a young woman, is a rebel. Although she marries young and has a child, her dream is to be a cabaret singer. She manages to achieve this ambition, but only by neglecting her husband and baby. Yasmin (Tracy Abramovich in the contemporary scenes and Dana Zilberstein in the Sixties section) suffers from poor health, works as a midwife as her mother did, and marries a man who becomes crippled in a work accident. They are unable to have children. Children are not a problem for Flora (Raymond Amsalem in the early scenes and Rivka Raz later in the film), a housewife whose life revolves around her kids and who feels protective of her frail sibling and jealous of her more adventurous one. Flora's attempt to help Yasmin brings tragedy to the family, a tragedy that is kept secret from outsiders. In the contemporary scenes, the three sisters live together in an apartment in Tel Aviv, trying to figure out a way to get Yasmin the kidney transplant she desperately needs. The women bicker, but they need each other, since only they know the secret that has kept them bound together. This truth is something that Rocha (Tali Sharon), Rose's daughter, has only been able to guess at. In a rather clumsy device, Rocha works at an office that helps people transcribe their memories and make them into tapes or books. Her mother and her aunts tell her part of their stories and she is able to guess the rest. We in the audience are already in on the secret, and if Rocha had seen a few movies on the Hallmark Channel, she would guess it long before she does. Another problem here is that Rocha's traumas and quest to unravel her family's secrets, which get a fair amount of screen time, are far less compelling than the stories of her mother and aunts. Because of the familiarity of some of the scenes and situations, the film simply is not as moving as it might have been. In spite of the flaws in the film's conception, it is held together by wonderful ensemble acting. The standout is pop diva Miri Mesika in her first serious film role as the rebellious Rose. Mesika has a wonderful, sensuous screen presence even during the scenes when she isn't singing, and this is most likely the beginning of a long screen career for her. Dana Zilberstein and Raymond Amsalem are also excellent as the other two young sisters, as are Gila Almagor, Rivka Raz and Tracy Abramovich as the present-day triplets. Another outstanding aspect of the film is the production design in the Alexandria sequence and the Sixties scenes. The costumes and sets are gorgeous and the attention to detail is phenomenal. I can't remember an Israeli film as beautifully designed as this one, and the design is an important component of the atmosphere in the period scenes. This film was clearly a labor of love for Zvi-Riklis, and audiences flexible enough not to be put off by the soapopera lapses will find it a rewarding experience.