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Review: Underground (2012)

Director: Zeki Demirkubuz | 106 minutes | drama | Actors: Engin Günaydin, Serhat Tutumluer, Nihal Yalcin, Sarp Apak, Murat Cemcir, Serkan Keskin, Feridun Koc, Sirri Süreyya Önder,

The work of the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky centralizes, according to the protagonist of “Yeralti”, around themes that are rooted in reality. For example, this Muharrem (a convincing and supporting role of the Turkish actor and comedian Engin Günaydin) literally says at one point: “Reality is above everything”. The single civil servant then unleashes a quest for a fairer and free world, in which truth and reality are and can be a person because he, free Cartesian, exists. The turnaround stems from disappointment in himself (his professional career as a writer has failed), the people around him (he feels intellectually undervalued), and the world in general. It manifests itself in a kind of hyper-rationality that allows him to do and say whatever he wants in order to denounce universal injustice.

When his domestic worker is harassed by another employer, Muharrem proposes to simply kill the man. During a dinner organized to celebrate a literary award from a former friend, he seeks direct confrontation with his table mates and accuses them of plagiarism, dishonesty and heel-licking. In the hurtful encounter with a young prostitute, the realization slowly comes that the way he organizes his new life is by no means the solution. In fact, he gradually sinks deeper into a black hole of isolation, unscrupulousness and uprooted reality. Muharrem loses himself in the dark recesses of his consciousness, becomes more and more insane, eventually achieving the opposite of what he originally intended. He literally sidelined himself from the reality he was so eagerly looking for. In a subtle way, we eventually work towards the climax. “Yeralti” always knows how to uphold the involvement with the protagonist, and given his difficult, provocative and alienating character, that is no easy task.

Muharrem’s shut-out doom is portrayed in a striking way. His observational distance from the rest of the (play) world is characterized by the frequent use of windows and other surfaces that separate him from the real reality. Muharrem’s sombre perspective is enhanced by the matte use of color. His apartment and other locations also look gloomy, dark and outdated. The sparse play of light effectively contributes to the feverish atmosphere of the film. Here, “Yeralti” (the title refers to Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground”, the novel underlying this free adaptation) exudes from every cinematographic pore and in a very recognizable way Dostoevsky’s work. In fact, the places of resemble the St. Petersburg in the work of the Russian writer so much that a more individual line might have been more appropriate. On the other hand, it can also be argued that director is able to approach Dostoevsky’s work in a very intense way. And that is a very good achievement.

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