Starring Yavuz Bingol, Hatice Asian
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
3 stars (out of 5)
The Turkish film Three Monkeys is a sad meditation on morality, ethics, and the unrelenting effects of tragedy. A painfully bleak prize-winner for best direction at Cannes in 2008, it’s also one hell of a beautiful downer, built on lingering long shots, moody colours, and epic silent stretches of bravura acting.
The film opens on a sleepy driver, corrupt politician Servet (Ercan Kesal), navigating a dark, narrow lane. After he hits a pedestrian, a couple drives by, comes upon the crumpled body in the middle of the road, and opts to keep driving, ultimately allowing Servet to escape undetected.
Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol), Servet’s driver, takes the fall in exchange for big bucks, and is sentenced to nine months in prison. This leaves his wife, Hacer (the beautifully expressive Hatice Asian), and his troubled teenage son, Ismail (Rifat Sungar), at home, both restless and unhappy in their own ways. When Ismail comes home battered and bloody, Hacer goes to Servet for a loan, and the two become embroiled in a secret affair.
The film takes its name from the three monkeys used to convey “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” and an inability to communicate seems to be at the root of the family’s dysfunction. They’re still mourning the loss of their second son, 10 years previously, who periodically appears to them in various hallucinations. When Eyüp is finally released from jail, everyone’s lies come undone, building to a tense climax about the repercussions of willful ignorance.
Director-writer Nuri Bilge Ceylan loves to linger on his actors’ faces, or allow a scene to unfold far off in the distance and at times, the cinematography segues from languid to labourious, making Three Monkeys feel plodding. But the film’s final scenes are electrifying, even in the depressing realization that this fractured family hasn’t really learned from its mistakes. — Andrea Warner