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Three Monkeys

Zeitgeist Video // Unrated // November 24, 2009
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted November 14, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

What do we think of when we hear the phrase "three monkeys"? Most would probably invoke the image of three monkeys sitting in a row, one with hands clasped over his mouth, one with hands clasped over his ears, and one with hands clasped over his eyes. It's become a symbol that means ignoring something or sweeping it under the rug, feigning ignorance to its existence for either a "greater" or more self-absorbed purpose. That's the root of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Cannes Film Festival success Three Monkeys (Üç maymun), a soapy, bloated drama with enough of an edge to give it a sense of brash realism.

The act being overlooked is a hit-and-run pedestrian accident committed by a rising politican named Servet (Ercan Kesal), occurring on dark backroads late in the night. In order to save face from his accident, he calls his employee Eyüp (Yavuz Bingöl) and offers him a lump sum waiting for him on the outside if he takes the fall. Though he's married and has a late-teen, early-twenties son Ismail (Ahmet Rıfat Şungar), he decides to take one for the politician and spend those nine months in jail. However, during that time when they're living off of advances from Eyüp's lump sum payment, the family falls apart; Eyüp's wife, Hacer (Hatice Aslan), grows lonely and looks to the affection of a man close to the family, while Ismail discovers her secret and struggles with whether to voice his concern to anyone else other than his mother.

Lies engulf the entire family, which causes a major rift in communication. Their broken contact, volatile and disquieting, becomes the focal point in Three Monkeys, erupting repeatedly. It's largely a reactionary drama that harks back to film noir of all shapes and sizes, hinging on controlled, lengthy close-ups to capture the subtle shifts and twitches in each of the character's faces. Their dishonesty pours from strained eyes and forced smiles, reminding us that there isn't a single honest one among them. At times we'd like to side with Hacer, a lonely mother struggling with her son's apathy, brought to scorching life by Hatice Aslan's stinging gazes and beautiful somberness. Other times, we wouldn't mind siding with the angry yet otherwise listless Ismail, a rather bleak kid slowly beaten into dishonesty as the picture inches forward.

Yet, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's churning melodrama isn't one where we're able to place much moral justification behind any of them -- especially once Eyüp's stint in jail comes to a close and the secrets begin to unspool. Three Monkeys latches onto a transitory yet bold temperament for its energy, pumping this thirty-minute story into well over an hour and a half of dark, taut moods and brooding overexposed photography. Cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki can claim a lot of credit for the film's mood, as his eye for overexposed photography paints the sparse dialogue against an intense backdrop. Paired with Ceylan's penchant for densely-textured close-ups, they've created a bare drama made fascinating by its furiously photographed flare.

It only intensifies as Three Monkeys approaches its climax, falling into a rhythm much akin to the all-consuming nature of the film noir framework -- with the "femme fatale" certainly living up to her name. Everything expectedly implodes around the family as their secrets consume them whole, swirling into an unnerving network of bleak conversations and knee-jerk paunch. And it closes just as the film opens, with darkness against its back and an uncertain desolation about its characters, building to a grippingly tense plummet as we witness the extent of their collapse. Nuri Bilge Ceylan has done a splendid job with transforming this potentially insipid melodrama into an intoxicating, suspenseful work.

The DVD:

Three Monkeys arrives Zeitgeist in a very attractive clear-case offering with fitting artwork both on the outside and adorning the inside of the case. Inside, a Booklet/Chapter Listing is available that contains an interview with director Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Video and Audio:
Presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen framing, Three Monkeys arrives in a sharp, moody transfer from Zeitgeist that's been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. As mentioned in the film review, it's a harsh visual style that focuses on pumped-up contrast and oddly-saturated colors that gravitate to sallow and, at times, almost acidic greens in a few sequences. Considering that, the amount of detail and contrast solidity are handled appropriately, only growing minutely hazy in a few sequences. The fact that it was shot with high-definition cameras is overwhelmingly obvious in this image from start to finish, grasping a hold of several textures throughout that really impress. Some scenes look a little waxy and contrast might be a little havily handled -- as very few details escape from the broad range of blacks across the image -- yet Zeitgeist's transfer looks immensely pleasing in capturing the film's mood.

Audio comes only in a Turkish 2.0 Stereo track, which isn't a terribly dynamic affair but sounds fine for its purposes. Elements like a cellphone ringing and a desk fan whirring sound great, showing atmospheric competence. Dialogue is mostly handled in the same fashion, staying buoyant and audible. The yelling sequences, which there are quite a few, preserve the high-pitched female screams and lower-level male yells with nary a point of distortion. However, there are several sequences where verbal lines grow overly echoic (such as the emotional conversation between Hacer and Sevet by the beach) -- but that likely stems from the recorded source. Overall, it's a pleasing sound presentation from Zeitgeist./

Special Features:

Along with the interview in the liner notes, we've only got two Trailers -- one for Three Monkeys (1:13, 16x9), and the other being for Ceylan's Climates (1:47, 4x3 Letterbox).

Final Thoughts:

Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys takes an soapy drama-drenched story and gives it a prickly, tense attitude that vaults it to another level. Featuring strong, close-quartered performances from all involved, especially Hatice Aslan's commanding turn as Hacer, it unravels a family haunted by secrets into an emotionally complex projection. Zeitgeist's DVD might be low on extras, but it's a fine presentation of this moody film that's robustly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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