By Andrew Hamlin
“Three Monkeys” is the fifth feature film for Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The film follows a family, but it is not a family drama. The dead sometimes walk in through the front door, but it is not a horror movie. Every character has his or her personal politics, but it is not a political film. “Three Monkeys” transcends genres.
Some of the complexities shown in the film is modernistic, such as the constant use of cell phones. Other complexities go back before recorded history, such as love affairs and betrayals.
The opening sequence demonstrates how Ceylan layers complexity. We see a man driving at night, straining his eyes to keep awake. Off-screen, the viewers hear the sounds of tires squealing. Ceylan triggers an important plot twist, which takes place in the viewer’s imagination, not onscreen.
A body lies on the road. A couple drives by the body but decides not to get out. They call for help with a cell phone. The driver responsible for the incident stays out of the spectator’s sight and waits besides his vehicle.
The driver is a prominent politician, Servet (Ercan Kesal). A more genre-driven movie might have had him blackmailed by a secret witness. Instead, Servet goes to his personal chauffeur Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol) with an offer of his own.
“Since you usually drive my car,” Servet says, “lets tell the authorities you drove the car that night. … Yes, you’ll have to go to prison. But I have money. I’ll make it worth your while, very much worth your while.”
The persistent camera witnesses the individuals in their blighted relationships. Through long takes, a scene can turn from joyous to sinister, and erotic to brutal.
With Eyüp in jail, his wife Hacer (Hatice Aslan) and his son Ismail (Ahmet Rifat Sungar) have time on their hands. Ceylan positions some of their most important conversations in front of a huge picture window, where they are reduced to being a pair of silhouettes.
The two communicate what they feel and keep inside through body language and hesitant spoken language. The director builds elaborate character portraits through interesting phases, switching from silhouettes to fully lit medium shots to shocking close-ups.
At one point, Ismail returns home unexpectedly. He discovers a shocking secret in his mother’s bedroom. The camera shows the door’s keyhole and Ismail’s eye, but not what he sees. However, his reaction says enough. The director’s refusal to render common techniques raises the film to an art form.
The director also utilizes weather and perspective to help tell his story. When Hacer goes to Servet wanting the politician’s love and Servet tells her they can never be together, dark clouds hovers over and set a dark tone. In another example, the director visually obscures the distant quarreling lovers, but their impassioned words are still very much audible. Ceylan renders an important contrast between nature and civilization.
The title “Three Monkeys” refers to the mythical monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.” By the end of the film, the four leads have seen, heard, and spoken a lot of evil. (end)
“Three Monkeys” opens Friday, Feb. 20 at the Varsity Theatre, 4329 University Way N.E. For prices and show times, call 206-781-5755 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.
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