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Three Monkeys

Dir Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Rating 3.0

Zeitgeist Films

109 Minutes

If film noir’s your cup of tea, then get you to the pictures for this sultry Turkish orgy of troubled morals, salacious motives and smoldering eye contact. Implanting modern-day Istanbul into the classic Hollywood crime/social problem template, Nuri Bilge Ceylan spins a yarn so tangled and lurid that it will transport melodrama aficionados (Fassbinder? Bergman, anyone?) to high-stakes heaven.. and leave everyone else writhing in its green-grey Oedipal hellflame. Shot with a distinctive grain, Three Monkeys makes its way along at a snail’s clip as a small family finds itself simultaneously ruptured and united by a series of dubious choices. Chauffeur to a rising politician, Eyup (Yavuz Bingol) agrees to take the blame when his boss kills a pedestrian in a late-night hit and run. Eyup is reassured by promises of the lump sum that he will receive in one year upon his release from prison. Leaving his wife Hacer (Hatice Aslan) and their only remaining son, he faces up to the crisis with hard boiled stoicism while his kin go about destroying their lives on the outside with lust and greed.

When Ismael (Rifat Sungar) pesters his mother, Hacer to ask Dad’s boss for an advance for a new car, she decides that it might be just the thing to draw him out of his adolescent slump. Eyup’s boss takes a fancy to the dusky femme fatale and offers her certain consolations in addition to the money owed her husband. Her infatuation blossoms within a matter of days, and so unfurls the dreamlike brutality of a confrontation between mother, lover, son and spouse, who catches on to the monkey business when he gets out of the big cooler and returns to a home vibrating with treachery.

Director of Photography Gokhan Tiryaki maintains a tenebral, hypnotic interplay between light and shadow throughout. Unlike the classic noir style, we are spared any voiceover. In fact, the film is altogether very staid on the dialogue front, which gives way to a powerful performance by the sound design itself. But even garnishing of a pulpy tussle between estranged man and wife and the supernatural entity haunting their apartment lose their gravitas when the going gets boring. The last half hour of Three Monkeys positively crawls, in spite of the beauty of stark lighting schemes, which leads viewers back to a simple question of taste: for those partial to melodrama edging its way through the banality (and honesty) of real-time narrative, all that schmaltzy crisis will do the trick. And for rest of you… “I hope your heart is stolen away/ Just like wares from a market stall…” The lyrics of disloyal Hacer’s cellphone ring might help remind you not to lighten up.

by Joan Wolkoff

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