JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Three Monkeys (Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan) - January 17, 2009

Three Monkeys

Üç maymun

4.5 4.5
109 min.

Reviewed at the 2009 Palm Springs International Film Festival
An eyeful of the politics of despair

Those willing to think for themselves, not in a rush for the dénouement and appreciate cinematographic narrative techniques will surely savour nearly every frame of director/co-writer Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s (along with Ebru Ceyland and Ercan Kesal) exceptionally crafted tale of crime, corruption and unbounded desperation.

Others—as was the case during the initial screening of the first full day at the Palm Springs International Film Festival—will depart early (wondering how on earth films like this are ever programmed) or laugh in all of the wrong places—perhaps due to some bits of the unfolding adulterous or greed-inspired events hitting far too close to home.

The opening sequence is a magnificent example (and precursor of what is to come) of filmmaking at its zenith. Servet (Kesal), an aging politician, is in danger of falling asleep at the wheel on a lonely dark road. His eyes flutter, trying to fend off the relentless Sandman. As is the case in pivotal scenes (notably the peep through a bedroom keyhole and a father/son meeting in prison where extreme, raw close-ups and movement more heard than seen—also used to great effect in Steve McQueen’s Hunger, cross-reference below), the incredible intensity of the camera lens up-close-and-ever-so-personal to its human counterpart wordlessly reveals sexual dalliance, buried guilt, vengeful crime and complete hopelessness.

At times, the literal burden of truth overwhelms both the characters and the audience.

The deadly result of Servet’s midnight drowsiness is revealed by passersby who stumble across a body on the roadside and the murder vehicle, yet opt not to get involved—“Call 911.”

Only a twitch of fading life from the hapless corpse could have improved the social commentary.

Soon the big screen—in a reverie to James Bond openings—mocks the enormity of the crime and shrivels into a small circle as the wily, on-the-campaign-trail politician slinks away to plan his next move.

Before you can say “Win at any cost,” Servet’s driver, Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol) is pulled from a deep sleep and offered a deal with his employer/devil: Take the rap for me, spend only a year in jail and untold riches will be yours. Without batting a blindly obedient I, he agrees—think of the family!

And so begins a tragic chain of events that forever changes Eyüp’s dreaming wife, Hacer (Hatice Aslan), their moody teenage son, Ismail (Rifat Sungar—a talent worth encouraging), and a fleeting spirit (Gürkan Aydin), long-ago laid to rest.

Gökhan Tiryaki’s camera (deftly aided by editors Ayhan Ergürsel, Bora Göksingöl and Ceylan) drives the story forward with truly pathetic resolve, creating a compelling tableau of the damned.

In the end, outcomes matter less than the refreshingly honest portrayal as to how the apparent power of some over their fellow human beings is as shallow as commitments made and promises sworn on their way to the ballot box. JWR

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