Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys is a film about aftermath and consequences more than action. With his most forcefully narrative film to date, the great Turkish director tells a story that could play like a Hitchcockian noir in a more conventional filmmaker's hands, but he does so with his own mournful, elegiac style. There is an accidental death, a murder, and infidelity in Three Monkeys but none of it happens on-screen. Ceylan and his co-writers are far more interested in the ripple effect than the actual throwing of the stone. The keeping of the secrets that tear apart the lives of his characters is far more dramatically rich than the events themselves. Even with that said, the relatively plot-centric screenplay for a filmmaker who is typically more of a visual poet than a storyteller makes Three Monkeys less effective than some of his other work (I adore Distant and you should find a way to see it if you can), but this is yet another film from an international talent with a unique style that more American film goers should take the time to appreciate.
Ceylan's fifth film opens with a sleepy man behind the wheel. The man turns out to be a politician named Servet (Ercan Kesal) and after a typically long opening take for Ceylan, we see that Servet's drowsiness has led him to hit a pedestrian. Knowing that the crime will destroy his political aspirations, Servet calls his loyal driver Eyup (Yavuz Bingol) and offers him a deal. If Eyup claims that he committed the crime, Servet will pay a tidy sum at the end of one year, which also happens to be the longest Eyup could possibly be incarcerated. The loyal servant covers for the corrupt politician.
The problems start when the decisions made by Servet and Eyup ripple out to the driver's family. His wife, Hacer (the excellent Hatice Aslan), and son, Ismail (Ahmet Rifat Sungar), are having trouble making ends meet in the year without a father figure, husband, or provider. Ismail can't or won't get a job and Hacer is forced to go to Servet and ask for some of the money in advance. Servet agrees but it is later revealed to have come with a heavy cost, another secret for which no one will be able to cover.
Ceylan shoots Three Monkeys in an even more mournful style than usual with nothing but storm clouds and a color palette of browns, grays, and low-lit rooms. This is dark, depressing material that only occasionally allows for the same visual beauty that Ceylan has produced in other films and can make for a draining cinematic experience. No one should go to a movie with the set-up of Three Monkeys looking for laughs, but the film is damagingly bleak, making it a bit monotonous at times. The cast is uniformly good and there's a reason that Ceylan won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, but Three Monkeys is good-not-great, a film that doesn't register or linger in the memory like I hoped that it would. Ceylan finds moments of stunning visual composition and his cast truly delivers, so art-house audiences will more than likely be satisfied by Three Monkeys, even if it's not a knockout punch.
Rating: THREE BONES