A striking adaptation of Dostoevsky’s “Notes From Underground,” Zeki Demirkubuz’s existential drama “Inside” convincingly transposes the novella’s action to contemporary Ankara and allows the Turkish multihyphenate to once again explore the bestial side of human nature. Riveting viewers with a tour-de-force performance from lead Engin Gunaydin and eye-catching cinematography, the technically sublime pic should prove more accessible to international audiences than Demirkubuz’s previous work has, and enjoy a longer shelf life as a modern take on a literary classic. Further fest play is assured.
The pic world-preemed in Istanbul’s national competition, where it garnered director and actor kudos as well as a people’s choice award from Turkey’s Radikal newspaper. Distributor Tiglon opened it in Turkish theaters following the festival screening.
One of literature’s most notable antiheros comes to life as slothful civil servant Mr. Muharrem (Gunaydin), a social outsider locked in his own obsessive world. Intelligent but oversensitive, he is disillusioned by the corruption of the society in which he lives. The intense, elliptical story of his self-destructive tendencies and insatiable desire for the shameful unfolds through his highly self-conscious point of view and occasional voiceover narration.
Like other Demirkubuz protagonists, Muharrem is a troubled soul, quick to take offense, and convinced that others despise him. Overly self-involved, he lives alone in near-squalor, watching wildlife behavior programs on television and masturbating on the couch. When not paralyzed by self-doubt, he wanders in dark places and has joyless sex with prostitutes. Envious, mean-spirited and unable to give or receive love, he is both villain and victim.
One of the main narrative threads involves Muharrem’s perverse desire to attend a dinner honoring a former friend (Serhat Tutumluer), now an award-winning author, to rankle him for past offenses. Another centers on Muharrem’s unhappy cleaning lady (Nihal Yalcin) and the abuses she suffers at the hands of their landlord. The most visually striking but narratively murky strand revolves around the protag’s interactions with a melancholy prostitute (Nergis Ozturk).
Much of a piece thematically with Demirkubuz’s other tales of darkness, “Inside” also boasts slyly humorous moments. Many of these involve the eggs Muharrem voraciously consumes, and the motif of men howling like beasts. The protag’s calmly delivered but irrational suggestion of a murder plot also elicits titters.
Recognized for his literary approach to filmmaking, Demirkubuz early on took Dostoevsky’s leitmotifs as the inspiration for his entire oeuvre, having devoured the novelist’s writings as a young political prisoner. His take on “Notes” is highly cinematic, and finds an equivalent for the words and punctuation of the source material via visual composition, editing, sound and performance.
Appearing flabby and unwashed, star Gunaydin (a well-known comedian playing against type) makes human frailty palpable as a man tormented by his heightened consciousness; he uses body language brilliantly as shots of him in his grimy briefs speak volumes about his life. Although they receive less screen time, the other actors are fine.
Widescreen nighttime lensing with the high-resolution Alexa (Arriflex’s answer to the Red One) allows the helmer’s technical precision to reach new heights. The painterly compositions stress Muharrem’s alienation and isolation, and the layered sound work is sensational.