O Simdi Mahkum / In the Jail Now (2005, Turkey)

O ?imdi Mahkum - Burhan Öçal as Numan Kolsuz holds a knife to the throat of Levent Kazak (as himself). Gökhan Özo?uz (as himself) is at top right.

Most prison comedies don’t work. This one does. It features an unexpected, slow descent into farce; it’s clever, and it’s black. It’s not entirely novel – it’s a variation on the theme of Two Way Stretch (1960) – a criminal breaking out of prison to do no good, only to break back in and give himself the perfect alibi – but is refreshingly different.

It follows on, I note, from O ?imdi Asker (2003), which Levent Kazak also wrote and starred in, placing himself, singer Gökhan Özo?uz (also as himself) and Yavuz Bingöl as Karlida? as three men on a 28-day army training camp, the latter two having paid for the privilege of being able to acquit their 18-month military service obligations (helping a cash-strapped Government) in just four weeks.

In this one, three stories intertwine. Karlida? returns after many years away to reclaim his lost love, Suzan, who has since married another. She decides to leave her husband, but that’s not in her husband’s plan – he produces a rifle and is about to kill his rival, when Suzan shoots him. Karlida? takes the rap for her and goes to jail, hoping and planning to soon escape and take Suzan with him.

Levent (who wrote the script and plays himself) is, naturally, a screenwriter. A bumbling, gauche screenwriter, and a pest. He has written a screenplay, O ?imdi Mahkum, a prison sitcom (including an escape tunnel sequence) which he hopes Gökhan (whom he met on the 28-day camp and who, under the stage name Athena Gökhan came fourth in 2004’s Eurovision Song Contest) will agree to star. The TV executives aren’t interested, but Levent continues to pester Gökhan, hoping that his involvement will get his project across the line. Gökhan is interested in neither Levent as a friend nor the sitcom, and tells Levent so, but gives him a lift in the pouring rain… and, after somebody else’s spliff that Levent had in his pocket is fumbled across the front seat, Gökhan crashes his car into a policeman. Both he and Levent are remanded into custody.

Meanwhile, gangster Yi?it Çiftgör (Ali Atay) has his business partner knocked off and tearfully fronts the TV cameras and names rival crime boss Numan Kolsuz (world-renowned percussionist Burhan Öçal) as the killer. It helps Yi?it’s cause that he owes money to Numan, having failed to give him his cut in a shared enterprise. Numan initially flees, then returns and surrenders himself to authorities… and is lodged in the same large dormitory in the same jail as the others. He has a plan.

Numan is ‘the King’ both in and out of prison, and what he says goes. By the time he arrives substantial progress has already been made on a massive tunnel. Numan appropriates it, and informs those who have been working on it – Karlida? in particular – that no-one other than he is to use it. He provides generous compensation to each the other men for exclusive use of the escape route. And duly escapes through it, confronts Yi?it in a messily violent episode over a game of Twister with lots of witnesses, and returns to his prison haven.

It works a treat, but the tunnel remains. To allow others to escape would of course draw attention to the tunnel and puncture Numan’s alibi… but, predictably, others are no so keen to have their own dreams of escape thwarted.

The film is an unusual mixture of a hard-edged crime thriller (replete with gangland double crossings and Russian girlfriends), love stories (particularly involving Karlida? and Gökhan), and gentle farce. In that respect it reminded me a little of the South Korean movie Righteous Ties (2006). It flirts with having the frightened Levent pose as a tough guy on being introduced to his fellow prisoners [à la Stir Crazy (1980) and others], but sensibly elects to go in a different direction, and much of the humour instead stems from whether the gangsters can trust the scriptwriter and his reluctant pop-singer mate, the near misses in having the tunnel discovered and other tensions, both in and outside prison.

I’m not sure what it says about prison, but it’s a highly entertaining and very different prison comedy. Bravo, Levent Kazak!

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Posted on November 5th, 2016 at 8:20 pm. Updated on June 16th, 2019 at 10:05 pm.

#64 in the Top 500

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