Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Üç Maymun (Three Monkeys) is this year's Turkish submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It has yet to be released in the United States, but it is certainly a movie to keep an eye out for. At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival it won the Best Director Award for Nuri Bilge Ceylan. This is the first film of his that I've been fortunate to see, and it is striking. Servet (Ercan Kesal) accidentally runs over a man after falling asleep at the wheel. A politician, he is concerned with the effect this incident will have on his upcoming election. He asks his driver, Eyüp (Yavuz Bingöl), to turn himself in for the crime in exchange for hush money. The struggling family man accepts the offer, hoping his son İsmail (Ahmet Rıfat Şungar) will capitalize on this opportunity and try to get accepted into the University. But he is ignorant of the added burden he has placed on his wife, Hacer (Hatice Aslan). And the pressure drives her to commit a fateful betrayal. Aslan is fascinating to watch as Hacer, the linchpin of this minimalist neo-noir. Hacer is a fading beauty, fading even faster under the burden of holding the family together under their miserable circumstances. Unable to fully control her son from hanging around with the wrong friends, she resigns herself to sleepwalking through her husband's jail time. It is only when she receives a modicum of sexual attention, from an unlikely source, that she is shaken from her reverie. After this, Aslan seems to undergo a physical transformation from handsome woman to quiet femme fatale. In a film almost totally devoid of colors outside the earthy palette, Hacer is suddenly wearing a seductive red nightshirt that even catches her newly-released husband off-guard. She suddenly seems to recall Monica Vitti in an Antonioni film. A little of that has to do with director Ceylan's style. The film's glacial pace does seem to echo Antonioni. Like in L'Avventura (1960), where a woman's disappearance was the inciting event for some deep introspection on the part of its protagonists (Vitti among those), the jailing of Eyüp, both a sacrifice and an act of complicity, is cause for each of the characters to turn inward ignoring the evil between them in much the same way the titular three monkeys do. And like in Antonioni's films, in the absence of dialogue Ceylan's focus turns to the surrounding environment and ambient sounds. The sound of the train running outside Eyüp's home is not easily forgotten after seeing Üç Maymun, and just as haunting as the sound of the wind in the trees in the park from Blowup (1966).