It's understandable to feel misled by the title of Three Monkeys. A wacky slapstick about a trio of rascally simians? Alas, no. Three Monkeys is a ponderous Turkish melodrama, and its title refers to the three wise monkeys of Japanese folklore: "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Monkeys director Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the Best Director Award at Cannes last year, so apparently Cannes jurors like directors to make movies as glacial and ambiguous as possible.
In the middle of the night, wealthy politician Servet (Ercan Kesal) accidentally runs over someone, so he wakes his servant, Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol), and offers him a lump sum to take the rap and serve a prison sentence. Eyüp agrees, leaving his wife Hacer (Hatice Aslan) and son Ismail (Rifat Sungar) behind in a cramped apartment. Soon, Ismail needs a car for his new job, so Hacer visits Servet to ask for an advance on the money. She starts sleeping with him; Ismail finds out, Eyüp gets out of prison, and everything turns to shit. Throughout all this, the dripping wet child-ghost of Ismail's brother haunts the family.
That's the sum total of the plot, and Ceylan stretches every scene too long by at least a third. He's in love with his (admittedly striking) high-contrast photography and heavy-handed symbolism, which throws dark, roiling clouds over its characters to express their obvious turmoil, a tactic that wears on one's sympathies. Ismail is a lazy mama's boy, Eyüp becomes an abusive thug, and the character of Hacer is immediately rendered incomprehensible after she fucks the sleazy Servet—a pity, since Bingol's conflicted performance is the best thing in the movie. Instead of giving us lingering glimpses into the characters' fragile emotions, the soporific Three Monkeys lingers like a bad case of heartburn.