Three Monkeys (2008)

Review #1,147

Director:  Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Cast:  Yavuz Bingol, Hatice Aslan, Ahmet Rifat Sungar
Plot:  A family suffers from a major communication breakdown during their struggle to get through their hardships.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Best Director (Cannes).
Runtime:  109min
Rating:  M18 for nudity.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, that according to the three wise monkeys of the famous 17th century Japanese carving at the Tosho-gu shrine.  In Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film, the three monkeys are a husband, wife, and their son.  You may be hard-pressed to consider them other than fools, but Ceylan sees them not just merely as such, but being entrapped in an eternal condition of guilt. 

Winning Best Director at Cannes, Three Monkeys tells a story of a man Eyup (the husband) who takes the fall for Servet, his wealthy boss with political ambitions, after the latter inexplicably knocks down a person in a deserted road in the middle of a rainy night. 

Eyup’s lower-class family gets the money, and all seem to go according to plan.  But a combination of greed, lust, and material desire knocks all into the path where (in)action is met with regret, with no way to salvage the pieces of their destruction.

Three Monkeys is a very slow film, even by Ceylan’s standards.  Its measured pacing, however, allows us to appreciate the artistry of a great filmmaker, for example, his sublime direction of his actors who have few lines, but reveal so much about their torrid existence through a walk across the room, or a glance at a mirror. 

And also his use of cinematography with his frequent collaborator Gokhan Tiryaki to evoke mood through the capture of rustic architecture of old Istanbul, and the dark ominous sky with menacing clouds that threaten to obliterate those who sin beneath it. 

The final shot of Three Monkeys, which is held for a good couple of minutes, is perhaps the best representation and expression of the cinema of Ceylan – capturing the loneliness of Man and his lack of communication as juxtaposed and affected by the topography and climate of his surroundings.

The film is a departure from the director’s earlier works, which are made with a small crew and cast including family members.  In Three Monkeys, Ceylan adopts a more experimental approach with a professional cast. 

There are more interior scenes than usual, with the focus on the changing dynamics between characters.  The film also takes on some moments of surrealism, though whether it is effective or distracting is up for debate – it didn’t work out well for me. 

As a whole, Three Monkeys feels less engrossing than his other films like Climates (2006), but it remains to be an important film for Ceylan.  It is a ‘bridge’ type of film, where a filmmaker needs to cross to expand himself creatively and open new horizons. 

I would like to think that the process served him well because he would later make two superb epics in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) and the Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep (2014). 

Verdict:  A departure from Ceylan’s earlier works, this is more experimental in its treatment and measured in its pacing, but less engrossing.

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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