Sunday, October 5, 2008

PIFF: Day Two

Three Monkeys

Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys is a Turkish film noir shot on HD in olive tones. The film's gloomy atmosphere is so pervasive that, even in the middle of the day, the cinematography bathes the characters in darkness. In some scenes, Ceylan frames his characters against a window overlooking the sea, and then stops down the aperture so that the background looks normal and the foreground is underexposed. Once again, Ceylan prooves himself a master of mood.

However, the story in the middle of all this moody brooding is a rather perfunctory crime plot with the usual Oedipal associations. On a dark and stormy night, Servet (Ercan Kesal), a political candidate, runs over a pedestrian and pays his driver, Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol), to take the wrap. While Eyüp is in prison, his son, Ismail (Rifat Sungar) decides he wants a car, and his mother, Hacer (Hatice Aslan), pays a visit to Servet's office to ask for an advance on the money he promised Eyüp. Adultery, murder and bad vibes ensue. At times, Ceylan over-does it with the Freudian symbolism. When Ismail sees Hacer getting jiggy with Servet through a key hole, the first thing he sees when he turns away is a butcher knife. Similarly, Hacer's ring tone--a Turkish pop song about a bitter, spurned lover--is a bit on the nose for my liking. The film is well executed, but Ceylan has shown in the past that he's capable of much more.

Lost Song

Rodrigue Jean's Lost Song is similarly strong on style (though not that strong) and weak in its content. As the film opens, Elisabeth (Suzie LeBlanc), an Acadian opera singer, and her husband, Pierre (Patrick Goyette), move into a cabin in rural New Brunswick with their infant son. As a result of the move, the baby refuses to be breastfed, leading Elisabeth to bottle feed over Pierre's objections. Soon after, Elisabeth begins to display signs of postpartum despression. But since Pierre--a letcherous momma's boy who has some unspecificed job in a nearby town that requires him to wear a suit everyday--doesn't even try to get her help, the film quickly devolves into a monotonous series of scenes in which Elisabeth does increasingly crazy things. She hears animals moving around in the attic. At the baby's Christening, she starts laughing uncontrollably. In one scene, Naomi (Marilou Longpré Pilon), a university student spending her summer on the lake, knocks on Elisabeth's door to borrow some milk. Elisabeth obliges, but when Naomi drops the carton accidentally, Elisabeth suddenly slaps her. Since Elisabeth's actions are dictated by a condition rather than her personality, the story has nowhere to go.

Still, it should be acknowledged that Jean displays some talent behind the camera. The confidently austere style progresses from static long shots to more frantic handheld medium shots and close-ups as the sequence builds dramatically. (Conversely, what's most radical about the work of Robert Bresson and Yasujiro Ozu is the way each shot is weighted equally.) I hope that for their next features, Ceylan and Jean get better scripts to work with.

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