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Three Monkeys | Review

See, Hear and Speak no Evil: Ceylan digs into catastrophe, one crisis at a time.

An engrossing film neatly book-ended by tragedy, the beautifully directed, somber looking picture could easily be described as a ‘triage drama’. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s unleashes a wicked storm on a family tree of three and he prioritizes the characters whose lesions are the freshest. With traces of greed and adultery, the first half ultimately withholds key details until it slowly dissipates into spewing conflict and unhinged desire leaving the characters broken, distraught and left to pick up the pieces individually, instead of collectively. Delivering a more accessible art-house pic that is a deliberate digression from his previous work (Uzak and Climates) but as a whole carries trademark tonality, and visual framework that is the strong suit of his signature style, with Three Monkeys, the Turkish filmmaker proves that he is officially in the zone and is set to be a part of Cannes’ permanent tapestry.

In due course, extraordinary circumstances can have a trickle down effect especially for this working class family comprised of a personal driver husband named Eyup (Yavuz Bingol), his directionless wife Hacer (Hatice Aslan) and teenage son Ismail (Ahmet Rifat Sungar). Taking the blame for his bosses’ grave mistake, Eyup’s pact is the bad decision that almost seals the fate of his family life. Scripted by Ceylan, his wife Ebru and actor Ercan Kesal (who plays the storyline’s dealmaker and ultimately the deal breaker), this combo of writers neatly wraps themes of infidelity, guilt and abandonment within the nuanced core of the screenplay and its criminal element trimmings. The tension filled air in the seaside apartment is made worse by providing each character with a moral dilemma and, by insulating everyone with this inability to communicate. Matching emotional undercurrents with the threatening skyline, there are a number of sweeping melodramatic cues made palpable by each of the character’s desperations. Amusingly, it is a cellphone ring tone that offers the only moments of reprieve from the all the wrath the text embodies.

With the toxicity levels of the dysfunctional family and select imagery such as seaside roughage, sweaty confines of a beaten down apartment and balcony terraces, Ceylan and cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki add a texturized profundity. This visual flair is something fans of his work are already accustomed to – here a muted, worn-out color palette are visible with port cities favoring burnt colors and the skies seem to open to darker blues and thick grays of the color scheme. In a nutshell, Three Monkeys is one more solid piece of work in the filmmaker’s filmography, and might be the film that enlarges his global fanbase.

Originally reviewed at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival (Section: Main Competition) on

May 15th 2008.

109 Minutes

Rating 3.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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