Üç maymun | Three Monkeys
DIRECTOR: Nuri Bilge Ceylan | WRITERS: Ebru Ceylan, Ercan Kesal, Nuri Bilge Ceylan | CAST: Yavuz Bingöl, Hatice Aslan, Ahmet Rıfat Şungar, Ercan Kesal, Cafer Köse, Gürkan Aydın | Turkey
While Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is not a policier yet is not quite not a policier, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s prior film Three Monkeys is and isn’t a film noir. It feels like noir in that it presents us with morally ambiguous characters in a corrupt and casually brutal world, but it lacks the snap and tautness of a true film noir. The premise is easy enough: a politican running for (re?)election falls asleep at the wheel and kills someone; he bribes his driver into taking the blame by paying the driver’s salary to his family while he’s incarcerated with the promise of a big lump sum when he’s released. It’s hard to know why the driver accepts the deal, but he does and is sentenced to 9 months. There are two aspects of Three Monkeys that really stood out for me. The first and most obvious is the way the movie looks. Gökhan Tiryaki, who was also DP on Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, shot the film in such harsh high contrast that it almost feels like a black and white film with the merest suggestion of color. That coupled with extreme wide angle and deep focus shots, interiors shot from high up and at odd angels, stationary medium distance where you watch people going about their business in separate rooms: there is always something to draw your eye in and keep it focused there. But maybe there’s too much. It began to feel like showing off, and the uneasy and oppressive gloom that smothers everything began to feel forced. What I also found remarkable was Ceylan’s gift (also in Anatolia) for knowing what to show and what not to show, for knowing what can be left to inference, what loose ends not to tie. Ceylan’s narrative here works through elipses and he chooses not to have dialogue fill us in on what he hasn’t shown us: he asks you to do some of the work here. If you’re not attuned to what Ceylan is doing I’m sure it must feel like nothing is happening and that the characters aren’t talking about what’s really important. But that important stuff is imparted by other means. It’s here that Ceylan’s unerring eye for detail comes through. For instance, he doesn’t tell us that contemporary Turkey is rife with almost casual brutality, he shows us that it is but without editorializing. We see the victim of the hit-and-run accident that sets the plot in motion lying in the street on a country road at night (the politician is hiding behind his car some 20 or 30 feet away) when a car drives up and stops. The driver gets out to investigate because he thinks the man might still be alive, but his passenger stops him before he can by telling him not to be ridiculous; he settles for asking her to jot down the license plate number of the car before driving away. The fall-guy’s son, in another example, comes home late one night and his mother discovers him terribly badly beaten but nothing more is made of it — she doesn’t even ask him what happened. (We do know that he’s been hanging around with friends his mother disapproves of.) Or another instance when a minor traffic hassle in the middle of the day in crowded Istanbul isn’t pursued because the people in the other car look too dangerous and threatening to confront. The little details add up. Much of the film is carried by the actors’ facial expressions and body language and they are more than equal to the demands asked of them. And yet. The movie is just too self-conscious, it tries too hard. And a revenant son come back to haunt the living belonged in a different, lesser movie, not here; minus a point for him.