Thursday, January 15, 2009

Three Monkeys (Turkey's Submission for Oscar)

James from Out 1 here. With the 9-film shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film announced, let us all open our ears to the Annual Critics Who Cry “Snub!” While you can typically count me in that group, there are only a couple films that people are really upset about being snubbed (Gomorrah, Captain Abu Raed...but really, did you really expect Jordan to get a nomination the first year it submits?) unlike last years full-blown snub debacle (4 Months, Edge of Heaven, I Just Didn’t Do It, The Orphanage, Persepolis, Silent Light, Taxidermia, XXY...none of which even made the shortlist!) in favor of the weakest set of foreign film nominees in a decade.

Maybe the new rules are doing some good. The inclusion of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest feature Three Monkeys (Üç Maymun) proves, if nothing else, that the committee is getting a little more daring in their choices and, at long last, not afraid to reject generic, period (war) dramas. Turkey has never been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and, while Ceylan’s strongest feature Distant (Uzak) was submitted for Oscar consideration in 2003 and failed to clinch the nomination, Three Monkeys is a touch more accessible for Oscar voters and may provide Turkey and Ceylan the nomination they deserve.

In Three Monkeys, Ceylan’s assured direction maintains the somber, quiet, and brooding tone illustrated so effectively in Distant and Climates; however, Three Monkeys features a more straight forward narrative, which makes it a great introduction to Ceylan’s work even though its narrative attributes end up being its major weakness. After Servet, a wealthy politician, accidentally kills a pedestrian, he calls his lower class driver Eyüp to take the fall in exchange for a large sum of money for him and his family when he gets out. So begins his family’s attempts to cover up the truth of their situation, which leads to the disconnection and isolation that comes with the acceptance of, and refusal to recognize, their deception.

Ceylan’s direction is as sure handed as ever, which makes Three Monkeys a technical marvel. Ceylan has an acute sense for tone and mood, similar to Hungarian master Bela Tarr, that establishes the fascinating contradiction of claustrophobic isolation. But, just as Tarr’s The Man From London wanders off course with its dedication to narrative, Three Monkeys' lugubrious feel fails to completely mesh with its highly emotional melodramatic narrative. The material packs a punch of its own, albeit a familiar one, but Ceylan’s perfectly muted pitch, so focused on repression and interiority, highlights how emotionally vacant the bigger dramatic moments are in comparison to the powerful subtelties that enlivened the best parts of Three Monkeys and Ceylan's previous films.

Three Monkeys features sequences as strong as anything Ceylan has done, but falls short of the beauty and power seen in Distant and Climates. At the same time, it is the kind of gutsy “art house” foreign film that always deserves wider recognition and is consistently snubbed by Oscar voters. I’m still skeptical it will crack the final five (it’s less commercial than Oscar ever goes for and Ceylan is a young director who could win down the road) but, despite its faults, I’ll be rooting for Three Monkeys all the way.


Robert said...

I obviously haven't seen Three Monkeys yet, but after Climates and Distant, I am a fan of Ceylan (and Tarr for that matter, but that's an entirely different post).

Anonymous said...

In regards to the Foreign Language Oscar page, the committee is often referred to as "they" in regards to their voting habits and history.
"They like," "they don't like."

Aren't we forgetting that the smaller nominating team in Phase II is not the same as the first set? Presumably, the second group consists of members who are still working in the industry today, a younger, hipper, more in tune group then the larger committee that chooses six of the nine finalists.

With that said, I can totally see them choosing 3 Monkeys and The Class. Remember last year they were able to weed out the crap from the already poor finalist list. They skipped on the entries from Canada, Brazil, and Italy, which were the type of bizarro and/or sentimental choices the broader committee usually embraces.
Granted, they still have blood on their hands from the Volver snub, but I can sort of understand in a perverted way how it got left off - remember, the critical reception was that it was not Almodovar's best work and it did have it's share of naysayers, even though it was obviously a masterpiece.

- Adam


adam -- you have a point there.

i'd be thrilled if THE CLASS was in the lineup. i just don't want to get my hopes up because it's

a) contemporary
b) thinky

so right there two strikes.

James Hansen said...

Robert- I'll be interested to see what prior Ceylan fans think of THREE MONKEYS. I think its probably better as an intro to his work, as its a little more accessible. Unfortunately, that means the people who already dig DISTANT and CLIMATES might be a little disappointed (as I was). It's still good, though, and very much worth seeing.

Adam- I agree that the "they" of the nominating committee is odd, but if you track their picks I think its a fair assumption. That said, I also agree that the Phase 2 picks are likely what got "Three Monkeys" in the mix and am thankful for that change. I still think they need to shake things up more, but it's a step in the right direction. We'll have to see what ultimately wins though, because "Phase 2" (this sounds like a sci-fi movie already) can't save everything.

I won't get into VOLVER much, as its neither here nor there, but I will admit I'm a naysayer. Nathaniel has enough love for it, however, to make up for my ambivalent response.

pony said...

Re: the Academy now being "not afraid to reject generic, period (war) dramas", that second part of the statement is exactly how I would describe "Arráncame la vida", México's (aspiring) nominee. I would also describe it as a perfect blueprint for a porno (and a few years ago it wouldn't have been much of a stretch calling it an all-out erotic movie here): there's a young girl being popped by an older guy scene, an older woman teaching a younger one how to touch herself scene, a husband banging his mistress scene (I don't remember if this was only implied, but it's there nonetheless), a wife being banged by her less-old-than-his-husband-yet-not-as-young-as-herself-lover scene, an oldest husband's daughter being banged by her boyfriend as advised by her young stepmom scene (this is probably implied also), and others I'd be too bored to remember right now.

It sucks when all the good ones from your country (all three of them) prefer to work somewhere else, but who could blame them? Thank God we have Carlos Reygadas, but for how long? My favorite national movie from last year was Fernando Eimbcke's "Lake Tahoe", but to be honest I didn't like it all that much. Anyway, I bet he'll be working someplace else in a few years.

James Hansen said...

I'd put money on THE CLASS making the final 5. Sure its contemporary, but it has enough acclaim, support, and widespread appeal to at least get a nom. THREE MONKEYS doesn't have the same widespread appeal, which is what may cost it in the long run.

James Hansen said...

Pony- Haven't seen the Mexican nominee, but it sounds slightly hysterical. Maybe they saw BATTLE IN HEAVEN and thought lots of sex was a really good idea. And thank God for Reygadas indeed. I'm still fuming that SILENT LIGHT wasn't nominated last year, but, then again, the changes weren't made yet and it certainly isn't an Academy kind of movie even though its more "commercial" than his previous works.

pony said...

Oh, and I've only seen two of the possible nominees ("Three Monkeys", which I really liked, and "Arráncame la vida", which I didn't like but didn't dislike too much), and think "Gomorrah" is better than either of them. Can't wait for "Waltz with Bashir", "The Class" and "The Baader-Meinhoff Complex", even if some say the last one is not too good.

James Hansen said...

I prefer GOMORRAH to THE CLASS or WALTZ WITH BASHIR, but its basically a toss up with THREE MONKEYS for me. I probably like GOMORRAH a little more, but, personally, I'd rather see Turkey nominated more than the others. Nothing against those countries or there films (although I think WALTZ is really overrated), I just wanna see Turkey's first nom go to a great and challenging director. The foreign film Oscar used to give awards to those directors, and I hope to see that start happening again.

ZiZo said...

Captain Abu Raed...but really, did you really expect Jordan to get a nomination the first year it submits?

Well, Palestine (Jordan's Neighbor) got nominated in the first year that they submitted with "Paradise Now" and they almost won.

James Hansen said...

Zizo- Good point. I had forgotten that was Palestine's first year submitting. I retract my cynical comment. :)

cineastesin said...

i think this year's shortlist one of the best in recent years.Seeing Three Monkeys in the list is a surprise(very nice) for me.It will make the final five along with The Class,Waltz with Bashir and Everlasting Moments.(fifth spot is open)
About so called snubbing of Captain Abu Raed and Gomorra :Gomorra the most publicized foreign film in the oscar race and the Captain Abu Raed is a Sundance darling.Two foreign films Americans knows about most.When both of them cannot make the list there is a saying snubbing cause most people only see/know just this two foreign films in usa.from other side of the ocean it seems a good shortlist.