Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Three Monkeys bagged the best director prize at the Cannes and was Turkey’s submission to the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film. The film further went on to pip the much acclaimed Italian film Gomorra in the race and made it to the Academy’s shortlist for the foreign film category. A magnificent knockout by the Turkish auteur indeed! Mr. Bilge Ceylan is sometimes looked at as the Satyajit Ray of Turkey – incentive enough to give Mr. Bilge Ceylan's work a shot? How about we find out..
Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Three Monkeys bagged the best director prize at the Cannes and was Turkey’s submission to the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film. The film further went on to pip the much acclaimed Italian film Gomorra in the race and made it to the Academy’s shortlist for the foreign film category. A magnificent knockout by the Turkish auteur indeed! The director is known to make films that have often been described as “high art,” an important selling point for the Oscars. His films usually focus on natural existentialism and richly depict the mundane details of real life. Nuri Bilge Ceylan is sometimes looked at as the Satyajit Ray of Turkey – Incentive enough to give Mr. Bilge Ceylan's work a shot ? How about we delve a bit more into the film and find out.
The movie begins with a beguiling scene - a middle aged politician driving past an obscure road, trying to keep his heavy eyes from dozing. Then bang! He’s encountered with a hit and run. The scene of course is sans any little drama you can possibly interpose. It passes you by with a slowness that takes about an era even to realize who the perpetrator is really, and not because this is some sort of sensational suspense on celluloid, it’s merely the s-n-a-i-l s-p-e-e-d pace that Mr. Bilge Ceylan renders to the film. He is deliberate in the dawdling and this is the “high art” in Ceylan’s filmography. Apparently the films of this Turkish director are quite a bit of acquired tastes, much like wine. But here’s just a tip off - the film didn’t quite “acquire” a place in the final Oscar nominations.
Enough about the background and the director, let's get to the plot. Servet, a campaigning politician, gets involved in a hit and run case on the eve of the elections. In order to save his political career he summons his driver Eyüp to take the blame. To compensate, the politician promises a lump sum to be delivered to Eyüp’s family every month. The offer is accepted with good grace and Eyüp spends his nine months in prison while much of what we see revolves around his familial life back home. His wife Hacer and son Ismail spend their days unhurriedly, never mentioning their circumstance. They watch television, sit by Istanbul’s waterway, and go for common parties. But things soon fall apart in Eyüp’s household when Hacer begins to have an inane love affair with Servet, only to be discovered by her son Ismail.
The consequence of it is a throng of slaps that Ismail gives to his mother in a frenzy of agonizing anger and despair. Before long, Eyüp returns after serving his penalty, and learns of the truth in an inopportune episode. Hacer bears the wrath of her husband; her lover is suddenly killed; and the bizarre love affair comes to an end. Then life as you would think, (or wouldn’t?) goes on. They all eventually turn a blind eye to the sharp truths of their household, in order to avoid the hardships that would otherwise be impossible to endure.
The term three monkeys for the three (mother, father and son) probably emanates from the proverb, "see no evil, hear no evil, do no evil." This is a bit perplexing with relation to film, for much evil is seen, done and thought about. They all dip their toes in the bold and outrageous, and leave their souls obscured as much to each other as they do to us. Only small things are ever said, the big things lurk inside in their heads, unsaid. The title makes some sense considering the way the family deals with all the issues surrounding them, without ever talking about them. So that’s one monkey, what about the others? Did the Academy go entirely nuts when they shortlisted this film? Maybe, Maybe not. For the film is visually a winner.
The camera captures all the naturalistic nuances outstandingly: the family’s living room window that looks down upon the Istanbul Strait; close shots that demonstrate the onset of fatigue; droplets of sweat dribbling down chins; and an instance of maximum drama in a single static shot. Ceylan doesn’t believe in words, so he makes faces talk – and that’s the one thing he’s easily Oscar-worthy for.
Unlike most of Ceylan’s other films his actors here are mostly professionals. The film merely revolves around the life of the three main characters and they all depict what’s prescribed for them perfectly. The mom, Hatice Aslan, sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly, jogs your memory of the legendary Indian vamp Helen in more than one scene. The father played by Yavuz Bingol, is most intense as performer. The intuitive apprehensions of his wife’s infidelity surface fiercely in his long-drawn-out silences (those silences which by all means are the film’s most fashionable ingredient) – only, he makes it look like those silences were born for him. Rifat Sungar as the son (Ismail) is ideal for the role a young boy who fails university endlessly. Laid back and unfeigned, he gives life to some of the movie’s most natural and dreamy moments. The scene where his face juts out from a train window, amidst gorgeous imagery, with tears running down his cheek after he has slapped his mother is one of the many moments in the film where beauty surpasses boredom. There are also a couple of haunting scenes where Ismail’s deceased little brother appears to different people in the family in their dreams – it's upto film connoisseurs to figure out the depth of those scenes, but to most, they'd just stand out as hauntingly beautiful.
The Three Monkeys is finely tuned drama in a dull dream. You will like this if you A) find thinking easy and action difficult; B) love the murky kind of films with nothing outside the earthy spectrum of colors; or C) like to live your life without an end or a beginning.
The movie is quite spectacular in more ways than one, but where it's considerably iffy, is at its unrelenting languidity and enervating dilly-dallying. Now, it is entirely up to you to go for it or give it a miss. I, for one am not a big fan of the monkeys.