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Three Monkeys

September 11, 2010

Three Monkeys (2008)
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Actors: Yavuz Bingol, Hatice Aslan, Ahmet Rifat Sungar

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Synopsis: Murky goings-on in a troubled Turkish family….

Review: After the micro-masterpieces that were Uzak and Climates, Nuri Bilge Ceylan takes on more conventional genre-oriented subject matter for Three Monkeys, but is generally the worse off for it. Ironically, given that Three Monkeys has such a strong narrative framework with ‘big’ themes such as guilt and folly looming large, the two earlier films were much more gripping and moving as narratives, and I think there are a number of reasons for this. Primarily, what Ceylan has not done is adapt his hallmark cinematic vernacular (slow takes, love of close-up, heightened use of naturalised sound) to the requirements of the material. Where the plot necessitates brisk story-telling and economical use of the cinematographic medium, Ceylan does the exact opposite. Where the expert use of slow-burn photographic images embellishes the existential bent of Uzak and Climates, it stifles the mechanisms of Three Monkeys and the tactical decision to opt for a desaturated palette (presumably to articulate the drabness of the protagonists’ lives) seems too literal and unnecessary given the expressionistic use of colour he affects in his previous films. Equally, the ultra-stylised sound effects (dogs barking, cats purring, the wind blowing through curtains) have no rhetorical purpose in Three Monkeys and seem feint attempts at creating pathos and/or tension in the narrative.

Symbolic of Ceylan’s unease with the material is his misguided attempt to introduce a supernatural element (the family’s long-dead son returns to some of its members in dreamlike reveries). Again, this plays like a vague attempt to invoke sympathy for the characters, and seems a long way from the narrative sophistication of Uzak. Admittedly, Three Monkeys is still eminently watchable, simply because Ceylan is a masterful filmmaker, and even if the approach is somewhat awry, it’s always a treat to watch him conjure breathtaking cinematic images. (March 2009)

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