Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s brooding, inclement film noir. By STEVE GARDEN.

I LIKE good wine, but there’s a difference between tasting it and drinking it. Many wines are designed to impress at a tasting, but they may not drink as well in front of the fire. And of course, good wine reveals itself over time. At the risk of pushing a strained analogy, the New Zealand International Film Festivals can be like a tasting, but for me it’s always a taste of things to come. I return to many of the films again – sometimes often – and invariably there is much more to discover.

The forthright and dramatic new film from Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan skates perilously close to visual, narrative and thematic heavy-handedness – or so I thought during the Festival screening. His previous film, Climates, was a sophisticated cine-poem that required attentive involvement from the viewer. On the face of it, Three Monkeys appeared to be more conventional. The story concerns a politician who persuades his driver to take the blame (and a period of imprisonment) for an accident that would jeopardise his chances in an upcoming election in exchange for a significant sum of money. While in prison, the man’s son drifts into dangerous company, and his wife becomes involved with the politician. When the driver returns from prison, suspicion, guilt, fear and disgust permeate the claustrophobic world of this traumatised family.

In many ways, Three Monkeys is quintessential Ceylan, particularly in terms of his sophisticated visual style; the way he moves (or doesn’t move) his camera; his pacing, and his remarkably seamless temporal shifts. But the subject matter and overall look and feel of the film are darker than usual. Corruption and oppression (psychological, spiritual, political, emotional, sexual) are much more to the fore, and handled with broader brush-strokes than we’re used to seeing from Ceylan – as if he doesn’t want anyone in the audience to miss the point. Ceylan’s films are not (apparently) widely seen in Turkey, so given the criticism of patriarchal order and male delusion in his work, this new film may be an attempt to connect with a broader Turkish audience – men in particular.

Sadly, some people have misconstrued the depiction of misogyny in Three Monkeys as evidence of misogyny on Ceylan’s part, but if his intentions were misogynistic many of the scenes would have been quite different. The audience would more than likely have been privy to the sort of abuse the film sets out to criticise (and which largely goes unseen and unembellished). The film is an examination of the consequences of choices and actions, and while it’s squarely focused on one family, the wider implications are clear. Guilt and pain inform virtually every scene, and in two beautiful moments of pure cinema worthy of Tarkovsky, repression, denial and loss become hauntingly present and palpable. But ultimately, the film is about forgiveness, or more precisely, the adjustment needed to be able to forgive – not just others, but oneself. The more one thinks about this dark, noir-tinged tale, the more compassionate and relevant it becomes. Whether this is Grand Cru Chateau Ceylan or not remains to be seen, but perhaps a move in this direction may not be as disconcerting a prospect after all.