Three Monkeys

New Yorker (Zeitgeist) Release (In competition)–A noir crime melodrama, “Three Monkeys,” the fifth feature by the gifted Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan, represents a change of pace for a director, better known for his minimalist, self-reflextive, wryly humorous meditations of quiet (mostly male) lives, as was evident to an advantage in the superior “Uzak” (“Distance”) and “Climates.”

Cannes Film Fest 2008


I have no idea how popular Ceylan is in Turkey or how widely seen his pictures are, but he merits the label of a quintessential festival director.  Most of his work has world-premiered at the Cannes Film Fest, where he won a number of prestigious awards, including Best Director for “Three Monkeys.”  Two of his earlier features, “The Small Town” (1998) and “Clouds of May” (2000) were shown at the Berlin Film Fest.


The thematic staples of adultery, betrayal, and murder of the noir territory feature prominently in the new film.  However, while the narrative pull is stronger and the characterization sharper than those in his former pictures, the overall emotional and dramatic impact is not.  Though flaunting the same impressive visual imagery that had marked his previous work, “Three Monkeys,” Ceylan’s most plot-driven and least subtle feature, is at heart a generic hybrid, a combo of pulp noir thriller and family melodrama.  As such, it may prove to be more accessible than his more original but also obtuse and demanding former films.

Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol), the working-class patriarch-protagonist, succumbs to a peculiar order, when his domineering politician-boss Servet (Ercan Kesal) falls asleep at the wheel and runs over and kills a stranger on a country road in the first, extremely dark (literally) shot of the film.  Guilty but fearful of the consequences, Servet asks his employee, who’s his personal driver, to serve time in jail on his account, for which he will get paid a sizeable amount of money upon release. 


The melodrama then switches to Servet’s wife Hacer (Hatice Asian) and their rebellious teenage son Ismail (Rifat Sungar), who live in the suburbs in a small apartment atop a cliff by the sea, whose stormy nature seems to reflect the characters’ inner turmoil.


When Eyüp returns from jail, he finds out that his household and its orderly domestic life has been shattered forever.All the film’s characters are tortured souls in search for redemption and the predominant mood is bleak as befit a noir melodrama.  Ismail and Hacer become victims not only of Sevet’s punishment but also of their own personality and conduct.   

Turning point occurs, when Hacer asks Servet for an advance, and the poilitician, who has just lost the election, makes good on his promise contingent on sexual favbors.  Can Hacer keep the illicit affair as secret from her handsome, restless son, who is troubled in his own way.
In its depiction of personal angst, family dysfunctionality, and inability to communicate, the scenario, penned by Ceylan, his wife Ebru Ceylan and Ercan Kesal, shows influence of American film noir, transplanted to a distinct Turkish milieu.  But the specific physical milieu and the interpretations of the actors, including that of Aslan who plays the more familiar role of the seductress, puts a personal spin on the proceedings.  

One of the few darkly comic notes derives from the specific ringtone of a cell-phone, which always seems to interrupt the most brooding and serious moments, indicating that Ceylan has not lost his sense of humor, even when dealing with such downnbeat text.

Congruent with the film’s themes and season (it’s set in the fall), Ceylan works with a more constrained autumnal color palette than the usual, dominated by green, yellow, brown, and gray.   Even so, his stylistic trademarks are still manifest: the delibearte mise-en-scene with its precise composition, the foreboding mood, the long silences and pauses, the sharp cuts from long takes to close-ups, the manipulation of colors, the striking natural sounds of scrape of tires on gravel and the amlified effects of thunder and lightning.



Running time: 109 Minutes.