Straying from the arthouse melancholy and the moody dead-time passages with non-professional actors of his earlier Tarkovsky, Kiarostami and Antonioni influenced features, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s more conventional thriller plot for Three Monkeys was not as well-received by the critics who adored Uzak and Climates, even though the film did go on to win the Best Director award at Cannes in 2008. For those less keen on the obvious references that sometimes got in the way of the more personal subjects of a clearly talented and multi-disciplined director however, Three Monkeys, for all its genre playing, demonstrates those qualities much better without losing any of the strength of Ceylan’s personal interests and themes.
Looking for any political commentary in the story a family whose lives are destroyed when they become involved in a cover-up for a crooked politician will however prove fruitless, but clearly focussing on the human drama that arises out of the situation, Nuri Bilge Ceylan manages to wring familiar character traits and intense familial conflicts out of the material. Demonstrating his all-round abilities as writer, director and editor of his work, Ceylan lays the premise out at the start with clear economical precision, yet not without some poetic resonance in the use of light and sound. Cracks of thunder and lightning may announce somewhat dramatically the flight of Servet (Ercan Kesal) from the scene of a late night hit-and-run car accident that he has been involved in on a remote country road, but the stakes are indeed high as Servet is a politician with the promise of a bright future in the up-coming elections. For the sake of his career, he convinces his driver Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol) to take the blame and do the prison time for him, promising him that the he will be well-paid for this favour and that his family will be looked after.
With supreme irony and not a small amount of underlying darkness, Ceylan masterfully counterpoints this then with the failure of Servet and his party to win the election, the politician sitting in his office, trying to put a brave face on matters while Eyüp’s wife Hacer (Hatice Aslan) comes calling. She is uncomfortably looking for an advance payment to set up a small business for their son Ismail (Rifat Sungar), who has not done well in his examinations and is mixed up in trouble with the wrong crowd; Servet is looking for consolation and validation of his position or someone to blame – it’s a lethal combination that is to lead to the unravelling of all their lives.
All very dramatic – much more dramatic than you might expect from a Nuri Bilge Ceylan film – but the director does also punctuate the plot with quieter moments, finding expression for the predicament of the characters in the landscapes and stormclouds – the cinematography as impressive and evocative as ever – as well as in gusts of wind, in the use of light, colour and sounds. In this context the artiness is a little more mainstream in the Tarkovsky-lite style of Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Banishment, The Return), but it’s no less effective for it. Even working with professional actors for the first time really (and obtaining fine performances from them), Ceylan finds in Three Monkeys a means of expression that I feel is much more his own and more personalised than the obvious lifts from Tarkovsky that characterise his work elsewhere.
Regardless of the manner in which it is expressed however, the themes are the same from other Nuri Bilge Ceylan films – souls at a dead end, families trying to hold themselves together, and relationships pushed beyond reasonable limits by the demands of the outside world and their own self-destructive impulses. The three members of Eyüp’s family then resemble the Three Monkeys of the film’s title, seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking no evil – remaining silent, but covering up the flaws in their characters with lies and deception. Each think they are doing what is necessary, but all it creates in this finely crafted film is an intolerable situation that has an unfortunate way of rebounding on them terribly.
Three Monkeys is released in the UK by New Wave Films. The DVD is in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced and progressively encoded, New Wave Films give Three Monkeys a pretty much flawless transfer. Digitally shot and meticulously colour graded for mood, the image is most impressive, with deeply saturated blacks that never falter, a rich tint to the colouration, fine clarity and good levels of detail, even in those shadowy areas. Moreover, the image remains fluid and stable, with no signs of compression artefacts or edge-enhancement. This would look amazing in High Definition, but even upscaled from SD, it still looks wonderful.
The film comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. The surround mix is evidently the one to go for and it functions very well indeed. The audio is focussed towards the centre, and is clear and resonant with a strong dynamic and subtle ambience on the surrounds.
English subtitles are provided and are optional in a clear white font. The lyrics of the song that plays as the ring tone on Hacer’s phone are also translated, which is an important detail in the film.
The film’s trailer is presented anamorphically at 2.35:1 and it’s an effective promotion for the film, which looks most impressive.
Interview with Nuri Bilge Ceylan (29:18)
The director gives comprehensive coverage of the film from the initial ideas and inspirations, the title and the writing process, through to all aspects of the filming, casting, music and cinematography. The interview is intercut with stills, clips from the film and some behind-the-scenes footage.
In Three Monkeys, Nuri Bilge Ceylan leaves behind the moody melancholy of his previous work for a tense thriller that nevertheless retains the signature themes and marvellous cinematography of his earlier work. While some may regret the loss of the personal, homemade quality of the director’s work and the swapping of family members for professional actors, the dropping of the arthouse mannerisms is ultimately to the benefit of the material, which loses none of its power or relevance. New Wave Films continue to give their growing fine range of films the best possible transfers on DVD and Three Monkeys in particular looks exceptionally good.