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It's no secret that the films of Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan are an acquired taste. They are as slow as molasses, but as discerning cinephiles discovered with "Distant" (2003) and "Climates" (2006), what a sweet flavor that molasses, properly savored, contains. "Three Monkeys" is no different, yet at the same time it represents some tentative steps into new and welcome thematic territory.

Low-grossing theatrical releases can be expected in major cities around the world in which the long-take aesthetic is still appreciated, and ancillary sales, especially DVD, will be even better. It's a must for festivals with even modest art film pretensions and, given Ceylan's highly developed visual sensibility, should especially appeal to art museum programmers.

Ceylan's usual focus on individuals has now been expanded to include a family, comprised of a husband, Eyup (Yavuz Bingol); a wife, Hacer (Hatice Aslan); and their teenage son Ismael (Ahmet Rifat Sungar). Eyup, the driver for a local politician named Servet (Ercan Kesal), is persuaded by his boss to take the rap for a death caused by a driving accident on the eve of elections. His sentence will be short, Servet explains, his family will continue to be paid his salary while he's in prison, and a lump sum will be waiting for him when he gets out.

All of this backstory is conveyed by voice-over in seconds, then gotten out of the way as the film settles in to a leisurely exposition of the daily life of mother and son. Nothing whatsoever seems to happen, yet little clues constantly are being planted that will continue to build throughout the film and lead to several grand, if understated, emotional payoffs.

No one working in cinema today can suggest an interior psychological state, solely through the camera's external observation of an unmoving character, as well as Ceylan can. Also, he uses the entire frame, which always is perfectly composed for maximum expressivity, whether in a long-held extreme long shot or in a devastating close-up. Differential focusing and camera angle also are meticulously thought out, and the emotional tension created in a few purposely drawn-out scenes can be excruciating.

The new territory, in addition to the emphasis on family dynamics, includes the occasional unnerving appearance of a long-dead younger brother, and several subtle feints in the direction of an apparently new religious sensibility.

The film is not without blemishes. For one thing, Hacer's motivation for a rash act that severely threatens the family is barely sketched in, hence not quite believable. For another, Ceylan seems unsure how to end his film, which would require a decision concerning which themes to accent.

But these are small cavils in the face of a film whose every shot seems lifted right off the wall of an art gallery and just as powerfully, if quietly, satisfying.(partialdiff)
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