Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have some new additions to your Netflix queue. Or someone with whom you can angrily disagree.
Silence is a tricky thing. When I’m with close friends, it can be comforting. Other times silence can be devastating, and make me utterly miserable. There’s a giant Pulp Fiction poster in the middle of my living room, so I’m reminded of Uma Thurman’s line, “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.” As I was watching Three Monkeys*, the new Turkish movie playing at E Street, I was also reminded of the same line. The movie has many tense silences, and to borrow a phrase from Uma, I yearned for the characters to yak about bullshit.
On an empty country road, a politician strikes and kills a pedestrian. He knows that scandal would hurt his chances in the upcoming election, so he gets his driver Eyüp to take the fall. Of course he sweetens the pot by paying Eyüp for his trouble. With the driver in jail, life at home becomes increasingly dour. Eyüp’s son Ismail (who looks uncannily like Ryan Gosling) has a sullen attitude, and does not make things easier for his mother Hacer. One day Ismail goes to visit his father, but quickly returns home after vomiting at the train station. He’s surprised when he hears his mother in the bedroom, and later finds the politician leaving their home. He correctly suspects the worst, and does not tell Eyüp what happened. Eventually Eyüp returns from jail, and finds all his relationships strained. Tensions mount, and he becomes gradually aware of his wife’s infidelity. Something finally snaps.
The most striking thing Three Monkeys is the camera work. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan films in digital, and the images he creates are drained of color. He saturates the screen with grays and greens, and evokes feelings of melancholy. There are many long, unbroken takes in which Ceylan regards his flawed characters as they brood. Some shots, such as the one on a stunning beach side cliff, could double as amazing photographs. Such a directorial style is matched by story and dialog. Indeed, there are excruciating periods of silence, and very little happens on screen. These characters are sometimes driven to violence, yet Ceylan only lets us see the aftermath. We are even denied the opportunity to see the car crash that churns the story forward. The actors manage to evoke pain with ease, and while no character is particularly likable, they are sometimes fascinating to watch. Ceylan is interested in how an ordinary family balks under extraordinary strain, and (perhaps correctly) argues that big revelations are not so common.
As I was leaving the theater, I wondered to myself, “Who would want to see this movie?” It is bleak and depressing. There are no characters with whom one can sympathize, and there is little dialog. A lot of movie simply consists of people staring angrily at one another. For all its seemingly negative qualities, Three Monkeys is a beautifully made movie, and occasionally enthralling. I hesitate to describe it as average, yet I have seen other movies that touch on similar themes in a more compelling way. I doubt this review will send you running to the theaters – you might find value in the experience if you’re receptive to the material. Who knows? Maybe it’ll help you be thankful for the people with whom you can comfortably shut the fuck up.
* The title refers to the monkeys who represent the proverbial “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” principle.
Here are other deliberately paced yet beautifully shot Turkish movies that are worth checking out:
Head-On. This is the first Turkish movie I saw, and served as good preparation for what was to follow. It tells the story of two immigrants living in Germany, and how they struggle between western sensibilities and their traditions back home. Cahit is a drunkard, about 40, and in dire need of a bath. Sibel, who is twenty years his junior, meets Cahit and proposes once she discovers that he is Turkish. She views the abrupt marriage as the only way to escape her domineering family. The two form an unlikely union that shatters almost immediately. Sibel is suicidal and prone to fits, and Cahit’s selfish alcoholism renders him an unhelpful companion. Eventually the characters travel back to their native land, and find a small measure of peace. There is some chemistry between these two, but not the kind you will find in any traditional romantic movie. Director Fatih Akin regards his character unflinchingly, and ensures that the viewer cannot look away from what happens. Head-On is both an exceptional character study and a fascinating look at immigrant life. It also helps that Sibel Kekilli, the actress playing Sibel, is strangely beautiful.
Climates. If Head-On tells the story of a unhappy working-class Turks, then Climates is its bourgeois counterpart. Married couple Bahar and Isa wander through ruins silently, and the rift between them is palpable. Isa’s unhappiness is a catalyst for impulsiveness – she expresses herself by nearly killing them in a scooter accident. Soon they separate, and Isa spirals out of control, going so far as to sexually assault a friend. Eventually there are desperate hints of a possible reconciliation. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (who plays Isa) uses the same austere style as he does in Three Monkeys. Agani the camera barely moves, acting more as a distant observer than a participant. What makes Climates unusual is how weather functions as a metaphor for their relationship. Sweltering summers are exhausting, rains are soothing, winters are isolating, and interiors are claustrophobic. I think the aim isn’t necessarily to suggest that weather influences mood, but to use setting as a substitute for traditional storytelling elements such as dialog and plot. Yes, the movie also sounds difficult and perhaps even boring, yet (as I noted with Three Monkeys) it’ll enthrall viewers who watch with the right mind set. If you like Bergman movies, you’ll like this one.
The Edge of Heaven. My friends are all too familiar with my bitter screed against hyperlink movies. You know the kind – multiple disjointed plotlines, often within the same city, that come together in unexpected ways to reveal some larger theme. Examples include Babel, Crash, Syriana, Happy Endings, I could go on. Crash is by far the worst offender of the lot, and the reason why my aversion to such a style is so strong. The Edge of Heaven, Akin’s follow up to Head-On, is yet another hyperlink movie, one with incredibly important difference. The characters never know how closely their lives touch. When characters in hyperlink movies become aware of the coincidences that drive the plot, too often the movie veers into schlock. This movie abandons such developments, and creates a more understated, wistful impression. The plot concerns itself with familiar stories of redemption, loss, and self-discovery. Like Head-On, all the characters are flawed yet sympathetic, and Akin creates a world that’s familiar even to non-Turks. The Edge of Heaven is one of my favorites from last year. Its masterful storytelling and beautiful photography will help crystallize why you should hate Crash (as if you needed another reason).
That’s it for this weeks “Another Movie Guy?”! Tune in next week when I’m naked, blue, and omnipotent.