Friday, August 01, 2008

Three Monkeys (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2008)

With a sudden lurch forward in ambition and a continued rarefication of his distinctive style, Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan offers his latest work, the downbeat family drama Three Monkeys. A sustained portrait of exquisitely rendered emotional suffering, this film at the very least broods fabulously. Thick mood permeates every perfectly composed frame that Ceylan shoots here, creating an oppressive air that turns out to be more convincing than anything found in the script. Deliberately recalling those of Antonioni, Ceylan’s directorial strategies feature a physical world that amplifies and reflects the interior discontent of his cast. Without a doubt, Ceylan conceives visually spellbinding images that maximize his choice of digital video. He finds color gradients, tricks of light, and uses of shadow that would have been impossible to realize using traditional film. This cinematographic adeptness is especially fortunate, as Three Monkeys comes across as somewhat thin and underdeveloped when one starts pondering elements beyond the visual.

Three Monkeys clearly has been designed to be a great film, but it’s perhaps a bit too neatly conceived to feel like one. The pat ironies of its plot are far too easily resolved, its metaphorical sound design too on the nose (the rumble of thunder and the distant barking of dogs are used to add portent), and the performances rely too much on inference to hit hard (don’t expect much in the way of clear motivation from these characters). Ceylan examines a family’s guilt, with the death of a young boy and the imprisonment of the father taking key metaphorical roles, but approaches the material obliquely, lessening its effectiveness. This is the first plot-heavy Ceylan film, and certainly represents a step forward for the director in many ways, but at the same time it doesn’t feel deeply impassioned, even if it’s aware of every minute emotional shading that affects its characters. In many ways, this glacially paced thriller recalls Bela Tarr’s The Man From London. Both films attempt to reinvent the film noir genre using dazzling visuals and slow-mo pacing, but Tarr’s work is both more distinctive and more absorbing. Three Monkeys is accomplished, but overdetermined. Its dramatic force can’t its equal its visual impact, resulting in a clear indication of where Ceylan’s strengths as a director lie.

Rating: 58/100

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