EMINE – ‘ekmeky Underground’ a promising debut feature

‘ekmeky Underground’ a promising debut featureAysim Turkmen’s debut film “ekmeky Underground” might have come back empty-handed from the 2014 Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival but luckily it comes to find its true audience in BaIka Sinema theaters this week. This is one very intriguing and promising first fiction film from Turkmen, who has already established herself as a documentary director in Turkey.

Perhaps the film harbors quite a few problems regarding its dispersed story however, there is something in this film which is purely raw, genuine and subversive that deserves attention not only from a young audience but also for those who would like to understand more about the underground street culture of the New Istanbul. I say New Istanbul because the film takes as its background theme the very present issue of gentrification and its consequences on everyday people who have literally no say over the exploitation of their habitation grounds.

The first scene says it all. Youngsters TarIk (Can Sipahi), Ferhat (BarII Gnenen) and Aya (AslI Menaz) are rehearsing their beat-box song and dance performance in Ferhat’s rundown garage studio in the outskirts of the city.

This is the neighborhood of ekmeky, once a shantytown composed of gecekondus, now a high-value real estate location being taken over by modern building compounds. The gentrification transformation is not complete, but the place is a ticking time bomb where soon almost all the original inhabitants will be duly sent off with forced buy-outs.

But let’s get back to our trio of friends. Full of energy, repressed anger and a yearning to make it big in the underground music scene, TarIk, Ferhat and Aya have decided to compete for a beat-box music competition.

Perhaps if they win the competition their lives will have more meaning, TarIk is unemployed, Ferhat works as an apprentice at the local auto-repair store and Aya helps out her aunt at the local store. Their daily lives might be unglamorous, but the way these kids carry themselves are nothing but.

Armored with their hip sporty clothes and their rebellious attitudes, the world is still a place full of possibilities for them despite their underprivileged and marginalized status. Turkmen’s strongest directorial asset is the way she approaches these characters, in the hands of someone different these three people could have been portrayed as mere caricatures that could be easily mocked, but her balanced approach to them as young human beings with dreams and realistic problems allows them to form into relatable characters.

If only her screenplay would have also come in a more tightened and structured fashion for the character arcs to take on their full journey and for us to feel their full desperation. Alas, this is due to the struggle of handling an ensemble cast and trying to give everyone their screen time.

Take for example the reappearance of TarIk’s older brother Cemal (Can Sipahi), who comes back from jail and isn’t quite ready to accept his younger brother’s steps into adulthood and his alternative lifestyle. The love and hate relationship between the two brothers is satisfactorily formed however, this relationship’s ebb and flow never really comes to a satisfyingly emotional closure towards the end.

The same can be said for TarIk’s romantic relationship with the German-Turk Berfin (Gzde KocaoIlu), who lives in the new modern-high security building compound Berfin’s presence is a great allegory for the interaction and clashes between the nouveau-riche and the economically lower-class however, the viewer is left with yearning for a heightened emotional confrontation between TarIk and herself. Nevertheless, this does not mean at all that Turkmen hasn’t captured the very unique atmosphere and essence of the story she presents.

There are many great moments in the film that portray the sense of frustration and disappointment of young people who live in this country today especially bound with a sense of economic and social uncertainty of their future, it isn’t an overstatement that the youth of Turkey today are constantly looking for easy exit strategies and get-rich schemes that might land them an irrevocable status in the big cities. A lovely conversation forms between TarIk and his weary mother when he asks her: “Why don’t my father and you just move back to the countryside?” She gives him an ironic smile.

When once migration to the metropolis was the most economically viable alternative, it is indeed an irony that nowadays the most promising alternative for a endurable life sounds like running away from our cities of concrete jungles in which the motto is dog-eat-dog. With its adrenaline fueled soundtrack of a fusion between arabesque and rap, “ekmeky Underground” becomes one very distinct and worthy film that says much about a contemporary Turkey stuck in a muddy pool of unplanned urbanization hand-in-hand with economic uncertainty.

Perhaps it tries to say too much sometimes and gets lost in its maze of characters and events nevertheless, I still believe this is one gem of a film coming from a promising director full of ideas and vision.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman