Moody’Monkeys’ Drive Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Tangled Triangle
For “Three Monkeys,” Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan took home the Best Director prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Ceylan’s latest is more plot-propelled and darker than his previously acclaimed atmospheric films, “Climates” and “Distant,” and in some ways it feels like an accomplished Turkish film noir.
Driving on a dark and rainy night, politician Servet (Ercan Kesal) hits a pedestrian and flees the scene. Facing an upcoming election, he enlists Eyüp (Yavuz Bingöl), his chauffeur (off-duty at the time), to take the blame by offering to pay Eyüp’s salary while he is in prison, plus a lump sum afterward. Eyüp’s lay-about son Ismail (Ahmet Rifat Sungar) schemes to get an advance on the payout to buy a car. Meanwhile, Eyüp’s wife Hacer (Hatice Aslan) goes to Servet to ask for the money, setting up an affair between the two. Tensions flare in the household, even before Eyüp returns home from prison.
Though “Three Monkeys” has more narrative elements than Ceylan’s earlier work, it is still largely a movie about mood. It’s generally restrained with beautiful long takes and mostly subtle performances. But any apparent calmness is really a façade. The characters are full of guilt, mistrust and unhappiness, emotions constantly simmering at the surface — until they boil over from time to time.
Ceylan’s narrative structure does not reveal everything at once. Typically, it takes the perspective of one of the three monkeys, whose vision of the big picture may be (partially) obscured at that moment in time. It’s an effective if slightly challenging technique of relaying information to the viewer.
After a first viewing, I must admit I found “Three Monkeys” to be slightly underwhelming given Ceylan’s reputation. I kept wondering, “Is that all?” But to be clear, “Three Monkeys” is still better than most films playing in the mainstream multiplexes — it just might not suit everyone’s mood.
Three Monkeys (Üç Maymun) (Turkish with subtitles; 109 min.; scope) Landmark’s E Street Cinema 3.5 out of 5 stars
Ephemeral ‘Blossoms’ In German director Doris Dörrie’s (“Men,” Enlightenment Guaranteed”) moving “Cherry Blossoms,” a wife opens her husband up to life’s possibilities, even as her own flower fades.
At first, Bavarian civil servant Rudi (Elmar Wepper) doesn’t exactly believe in the maxim, “Live each day as if it was your last.” He tells his devoted wife Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) that on his last day of life, he’d like to do pretty much the same thing he does every day: Go to work, eat the lunch that Trudi has prepared, come home to his wife, etc. He’s a man of routine, a self-proclaimed country bumpkin.
Well, it turns out that Trudi has learned of Rudi’s terminal illness. She suggests that they visit their son Karl (Maximilian Brückner) in Tokyo. He responds that it would be cheaper for Karl to visit them. They do agree on a visit to Berlin to see their daughter Karolin (Birgit Minichmayr) and son Klaus (Felix Eitner). But they don’t stay long as they (correctly) sense that they are intruding into the lives of their busy children, who don’t have time for their parents — an ode to Yasujiro Ozu’s classic “Tokyo Story.” So they move on to the beach, where Trudi ironically dies peacefully in her sleep. Klaus flies back to Germany for the funeral and asks Rudi why he and Trudi never visited him in Tokyo.
Rudi is spurred to now make that visit in honor of Trudi, who had a lifelong dream to visit Japan and see Mount Fuji. A couple of times, the audience is reminded of “Lost in Translation” — as the Westerner wanders aimlessly throughout the strangeness of a Japanese city. Eventually, Rudi strikes up a curious friendship with a homeless young woman (Aya Irizuki), who turns out to be a butoh dancer, an art form his wife admired.
Rudi’s trip is really a continuation of his love story with Trudi, whose presence (or lack of it) is palpable in many scenes, and the ephemeral romantic ambience of “Cherry Blossoms” works in large part because of strong performances by Elsner and Wepper.
Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüten — Hanami) (German, English and Japanese with subtitles; 124 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema 3.5 out of 5 stars
“The International” strives to not just be another Hollywood action thriller, but it doesn’t really succeed. It’s actually a multi-country co-production helmed by German director Tom Tykwer (“Run, Lola, Run,” “The Princess and the Warrior,” “Perfume”), who has an art house pedigree. “The International” also opened the 2009 Berlin Film Festival, a prestigious honor. However, like many opening night films at international festivals, it’s a bit of a disappointment. For one thing, the generic script can be banal and messy with trite dialogue.
The fictional IBBC bank seeks world domination, in large part by illicitly brokering arms and resorting to murder when required. For unexplained jurisdictional reasons, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (British actor Clive Owen) and New York City assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Australian actress Naomi Watts) have teamed up to catch the bad guys, traveling across the globe in hot pursuit.
Salinger always appears with bed head and stubble, showing his unhealthy obsession with the case, a carryover from his failed attempt to nail IBBC while previously working at Scotland Yard. Yet IBBC always seems to be one step ahead of the game, in collusion with the authorities and continually frustrating Salinger and Whitman’s attempts at justice. Their perseverance though allows them to finally catch a lucky break.
“The International” is not without merit, offering modest rewards. The film certainly displays stylish camerawork, a credit to Tykwer’s regular director of photography, Frank Griebe. The most memorable set piece is a protracted gun battle set in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan (actually a replica built on a Berlin sound stage).
In addition, Owen, Watts, and German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl (as a conflicted IBBC villain) are always worth watching, even when their roles are underwritten. Though muddled, the story can still act as serviceable if somewhat mindless entertainment. And Tykwer generally keeps things moving quickly enough to keep the audience from getting bored.
The International (English; 118 min.) Various area theaters 3 out of 5 stars
Please see International FilmClips for detailed listings available at press time.
Environmental Film Festival The 17th annual Environmental Film Festival in the nation’s capital runs from March 11 to 22 at a host of venues across town, showing a whopping 136 films from 34 countries. More than 50 of those selections will be D.C., U.S. or world premieres. In addition, 54 filmmakers and 69 special guests will bring their perspectives to the discussions before and after the films. A big theme this year will be the health and sustainability of Earth’s oceans and sea life.
Noteworthy films made available for preview include “Before Tomorrow,” “Blue Gold,” “Children of the Amazon,” “Marina of the Zabbaleen,” “Milking the Rhino,” “Of Time and the City,” “Secrets of the Reef,” “They Killed Sister Dorothy” and “The World According to Monsanto.”
Also of note is the Werner Herzog retrospective at AFI Silver Theatre — plus his recent Oscar-nominated documentary “Encounters at the End of the World” playing at the Goethe-Institut. Two recent films about rapidly changing China, “Up the Yangtze” and “24 City,” have also caused buzz on the international film festival circuit.
(202) 342-2564, www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org
In the Realm of Oshima “In the Realm of Oshima,” a series of films by Japanese New Wave auteur Nagisa Oshima, plays throughout March in Washington, D.C., at the Freer Gallery of Art, the AFI Silver Theatre, and the National Gallery of Art.
(202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/silver (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film
DC Independent Film Festival The DC Independent Film Festival runs March 4 to 15 at various theaters around town.
New African Films Festival The New African Films Festival runs March 19 to 26 at AFI Silver Theatre.
(301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/silver
About the Author
Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.