Three Monkeys
aka Üç maymun
Reviewed in December 2009
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Cast: Hatice Aslan, Ahmet Rifat Şungar, Yavuz Bingöl, Ercan Kesal, Gürkan Aydin, Cafer Köse. Screenplay: Ebru Ceylan, Ercan Kesal, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Photo © 2008 Zeynofilm, © 2009 Zeitgeist Films
Three Monkeys makes valiant strides toward coming alive as a piece of storytelling, which I should admit has not been my customary experience of the one and a half Ceylan films I have seen. I bailed on Climates once his addiction to the pathetic fallacy of seasonally-mirrored emotions reached unbearable levels, so I didn't see the wintry passages that I hear are the most interesting. I did witness the much-remarked scene of living-room fisticuffs with the added, jokey addition of that hazelnut getting pinged all over the floor, which reminded me of the Tarkovsky/porn punchline in Distant that no one who has seen that film is liable to forget. One good laugh per Ceylan film seems like his typical quota, and Three Monkeys follows through with a hilariously long scene of a woman desperate to find her cell-phone in her enormous purse, while it emits a truly humiliating ringtone amidst a very tense errand. Whether the recurrence of this absurd motif gives Three Monkeys its welcome sense of increased levity, I can't say; it's just as likely that I felt relieved that Ceylan wasn't pummeling us quite so early and often with those digitally amplified shots of leaden cloud-cover to which he seems so incorrigibly drawn. But drawn he eventually is, and when Three Monkeys starts running out of story and steam, it betrays a deflating sense of Ceylan grasping at all of his old straws, and lots of other people's too: literally heavy weather, close-ups that become even more photographically oppressive as they become more emotionally mute, as crude an "idea" about class relations filtered through sexual treacheries as that which Christian Petzold fumbled around with in this year's Jerichow, and repeated doses of what peak-period Joe Bob Briggs would have called Dead Child Fu. I'll hand it to Ceylan that his complex and claustrophobic framings of doorways and hallways in the film's main location holds some occasional interest, especially in one scene where the dead, wet kid first appears, and I heartily recommend that he keep exploring his nascent puckishness, palpable too in a scene where the female lead performs extravagant and hugely inconvenient faux-politeness about accepting a ride. But Ceylan keeps placing bets that his crustacean lighting and surfaces and his fascination with dour, unverbalized emotional states among small casts of characters will be enough to bear out an evolving career. Cannes keeps toasting him for reaching into the same small bag of tricks, so who am I to object, but I remain skeptical that Ceylan is anywhere near the artist that his most fervent fans and his repetitive films would have us believe. Grade: C+

Cannes Film Festival (2008): Best Director

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