Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: "Three Monkeys"

Three Monkeys opens on a lonely, winding country road in the middle of a rain storm. It's tempting to begin with some sort of hokey "it was a dark and stormy night" line. But Three Monkeys sucks you in immediately without any kind of clichéd tricks. The opening sequence sets an evocative and eerie mood for the film to come.

It is here where we are introduced to Servet, a shifty politician who is having trouble staying awake while driving. When he finally succumbs, he awakes to discover that he has hit and killed a pedestrian. Faced with a big election coming up, he panics and flees the scene, but not before his license plate number is taken down by some passing motorists.

Not wanting to jeopardize his political career, he enlists the help of his driver, Eyüp, to take the blame and go to jail for him. Upon his release he promises a large lump sum to him and his family. Eyüp agrees, and his wife, Hacer, and teenage son Ismail, are left alone for nine months.

But the situation only gets worse. Ismail wants an advance from Servet to buy a car so he can start his own business, and Servet wants sexual favors from Hacer in exchange. When Eyüp his released, he finds his wife in love with another man and his jealous son dealing with a murderous rage, and familial tensions finally reach a breaking point.

If you haven't gathered this much already, Three Monkeys is one of those films where everything that could possibly go wrong does. It is a film filled with familial strife and unspoken secrets lurking just beneath the surface just waiting for the right moment to burst through. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (who won the Best Director award for this at last year's Cannes Film Festival) has crafted his latest film with an air of haunting dread. Through the lens of cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki, Ceylan creates a moody, noirish atmosphere, surrounded by gray melancholy skies and the ominous rumblings of an approaching storm.

The imagery of the approaching storm is repeated often in Three Monkeys. It begins with a storm and eventually ends with one as the film eventually comes full circle, both narratively and symbolically. And among all this heartbreaking tragedy, there are moments of great beauty. Tiryaki's camera work is disarmingly beautiful, capturing the character's lives in stark shades of gray.

The title Three Monkeys is a reference to the famous Chinese "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" symbol, indicating the web of lies and half truths that the family finds themselves entangled in. Ceylan deftly navigates the film's tricky emotional waters, avoiding soap opera melodrama and instead creating an enthralling and deeply powerful mood piece. The pacing and overall visual look are almost hypnotic. Ceylan has no need to push the audience's emotional buttons, and as such Three Monkeys is a quietly devastating Greek parable about the overarching effects of the choices we make. It's ultimately a film about consequences - of lies, deceit, both to loved ones and to ourselves.

This is really stunning work. It is a darkly lyrical film, filled with muddled morality, family angst and shady deeds, but like Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata, Three Monkeys is a family drama that defies stereotypes and really works. Ceylan takes what has become an indie-movie specialty and made it feel shockingly, and thrillingly, new. He examines the darkness darkness beneath the surface with the deep seeded assuredness of a born filmmaker, and it will haunt the mind for days to come.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

THREE MONKEYS; Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Stars Yavuz Bingöl, Hatice Aslan, Ahmet Rifat Sungar, Yavuz Bingöl; Not Rated; In Turkish w/English subtitles; Opens today, March 27, in Los Angeles, and May 1 in New York.

2 comments:

S said...

Hi Matthew,
We wanted to let you know that on April 26, The Auteurs will debut Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys (for which he won the best director award at Cannes) online for free, 5 days before it's US theatrical opening. We will also be showing Ceylan's previous movie, Climates (winner of FIPRESCI prize at Cannes in 2006) online for free from April 23 to May 3. For more information, including trailers and stills, please visit our Studio Blog: http://studio.theauteurs.com/.

We hope you enjoy these great movies and pass the along the word about our free screenings!

S said...

Hi Matthew,
We wanted to let you know that on April 26, The Auteurs will debut Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys (for which he won the best director award at Cannes) online for free, 5 days before it's US theatrical opening. We will also be showing Ceylan's previous movie, Climates (winner of FIPRESCI prize at Cannes in 2006) online for free from April 23 to May 3. For more information, including trailers and stills, please visit our Studio Blog:http://studio.theauteurs.com/.

We hope you enjoy these great movies and pass the along the word about our free screenings!