Thursday, February 12, 2009

THREE MONKEYS / UC MAYMUN - brutal, languid, tragic

"Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil".

THREE MONKEYS is set in motion by a hit and run accident on a mountain road. But Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan doesn't make films where you see crucial events presented as beautifully staged set pieces. Rather, his movies focus on the emotional consequences of events - lingering over glances, refusing to pull away from brutal arguments - mining the internal lives of his characters. The protagonists are neither paragons nor villains. They are complex and have shifting loyalties. Take, for instance, the man who causes the accident. He's an oleaginous, cynical politician who bribes his driver to take the rap but later seems almost sympathetic and vulnerable. The driver and his son are at once domineering and listless. Both condemn others but themselves resist guilt - passing it forward, remaining complicit, callow, victimised. Look at the driver's wife: an equally fascinating but shifting character. With small gestures she transforms from a mousy, put-upon house-wife into a woman rediscovering her sexuality.

As with all Ceylan films, the intensity of the emotional journey is matched by evocative cinematography. DP Gokhan Tiryaki manages to shoot a deserted rail track or a decrepit concrete building and make it look as fascinating and evocative as a sweeping panorama of the Bosphorus. All of this adds up to a movie in which every gesture, every glance is meaningful, and where the audience can be oppressed by the tension. This has been taken by some as a fault of the movie. It's true: it's no easy watch. But that is, I think, it's strength.

UC MAYMUN played Cannes 2008 where Nuri Bilge Ceylan won Best Director, beating Clint Eastwood (CHANGELING); Soderbergh (CHE); Ari Folman (WALTZ WITH BASHIR) and the Dardennes Brothers (THE SILENCE OF LORNA). Indeed, the only director in the list that I feel was unfairly overlooked was Paolo Sorrentinto for the outstanding IL DIVO. UC MAYMUN also played Toronto 2008. It opened last year in Taiwan, Turkey, Mexico, Norway, Greece and Portugal. It opened earlier this year in Croatia and France and opens this weekend in the UK. It opens in Germany on March 19th.

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