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THREE MONKEYS (Üç maymun)(director/writer: Nuri Bilge Ceylan; screenwriters: Ebru Ceylan/Ercan Kesal; cinematographer: Gokhan Tiryaki; editors: Ayhan Ergursel/Bora Goksingol/Nuri Bilge Ceylan; cast: Yavuz Bingol (Eyüp), Hatice Aslan (Hacer), Ahmet Rifat Sungar (Ismail), Ercan Kesal (Servet), Cafer Köse (Bayram), Gürkan Aydin (The Child); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Zeynep Özbatur; Zeitgeist; 2008-Turkey/Italy/France-in Turkish with English subtitles)
“Astonishing and brooding film noir head trip.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Acclaimed Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Climates”/”Distant”/”Clouds in May”) won best director in Cannes for this astonishing and brooding film noir head trip, that amazingly allows you to see inside the four protagonists’ heads. It’s cowritten by Nuri, his wife Ebru Ceylan and his medical doctor friend Ercan Kesal, in his debut as a screenwriter, who also plays the part of the oily politician. The film is set in the off the beaten path suburban section of Istanbul.

The title is derived from a twist to the Confucius’ philosophy that has the three monkeys have a positive reaction to goodness: to not hear evil, not see it and not talk about it. The film has the son pretend that he did not witness his mother’s adultery, the father pretend that he hasn’t heard his boss’s voice on a phone message, and the mother pretend she’s not lying to her son and husband. Thereby in the film the monkey metaphor takes on a negative reaction, as the hypocritical bourgeois family is in denial about what is actually going on and in a slippery fashion try to sidestep their guilt and accountability.

It opens with the ambitious politician Servet (Ercan Kesal), who is running for national office, fleeing a fatal hit-and-run accident. Afraid this incident would ruin his election bid, Servet pays his chauffeur Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol) to go to prison in his place.

The devil’s bargain has a toll on Eyüp’s working-class family. His shiftless teenager son Ismail (Ahmet Rifat Sungar) buys an expensive new car with the blood money and his restless wife Hacer (Hatice Aslan) has an affair with Servet (who incidentally lost the election), and when after nine months Eyüp is released wifey still refuses to give up the affair to the anger of the politician.

Tensions mount as the family’s haunted by unseen ghosts and by their psyches riddled with conflict over love and hate, as the film’s two acts of violence–the car accident and later the murder of Servet by a family member–take place off camera.

It’s a slow moving and deliberate film with minimal dialogue that dares to try and intelligently understand such human nature and what leads ordinary people to deviate so far from the path of what’s right. Fascinating stuff if one has the patience to get into the film’s intrigues and somber tragic moments that sometimes seem too plotted and melodramatic. But when hitting on all cylinders, it’s a film that boils over with provocative cityscapes, subtle black humor, the banality of evil and the complications that arise from an emotional situation that can get out of hand.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”