by Paola Cesarini
The 2016-17 series "Içerde" is widely acclaimed as one the best ever aired in Turkey. It is also probably one of the least Turkish. The story is based on the highly successful 2006 Martin Scorsese film "The Departed", which centers on real-life characters from the infamous Boston Irish Mob. The movie, in turn, is an adaptation of the Hong Kong action film "Infernal Affairs." "The Departed" is considered a cinematic masterpiece. It was also a commercial success that earned several awards -- including four Oscars. So how does a Hong Kong gang/Irish mob cinematic tale fare once it is transplanted on the Bosphorous and stretched into a 39 two-hour episodes series? The answer, almost surprisingly, is harika.
In "The Departed", Boston Irish Mob boss Francis "Frank" Costello -- interpreted by an over-the-top Jack Nicholson -- plants Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) as a mole within the Massachusetts State Police. At the same time, the police assigns undercover state trooper Billy Costigan (Leonardo Di Caprio) to infiltrate Costello's crew on account of his family ties to organized crime. To increase his credibility with Costello, Costigan drops out of the academy and serves time in prison on a fake assault charge. While located in Istanbul, "Içerde's" story has the virtually identical premise of the Scorsese's film. Infamous Turkish mafia chief Baba Celal (Çetin Tekindor) supports his adoptive son's -- Mert Karadağ (Aras Bulut İynemli) -- career into the Police Academy. Upon graduation Mert earns a coveted spot into the organized crime investigative unit. At the same time, the Director of the very same unit manages successfully to infiltrate another police cadet -- Sarp Yilmaz (Çağatay Ulusoy) -- into Celal's gang. Sarp too has to spend one year in jail in order to penetrate Baba Celal's inner circle.
Like "Medcezir", the similarities between "Içerde" and "The Departed" end after the first episode. More specifically, "Içerde" dramatically complicates the relationship among the main characters, adding a great deal of pathos to the original story. Thus, in the Turkish series, Mert turns out to be Umut Yilmaz, Sarp's long lost younger brother, whom Celal had kidnapped in order to ensure his father's silence. Then, Sarp happens to fall in love with Melek (Bensu Soral), only to find out that she is Celal's biological daugther. And finally, Mert falls in love with Eylem (Damla Colbay) who is Sarp's sister-like childhood friend. "Içerde" reaches its climax when the two brothers, after a myriad of extraordinary events, eventually find each other in what is arguably one of the best scenes ever to be shown on Turkish TV. In contrast, "The Departed" ends in a depressing bloody mess that leaves viewers with a distinctive bitter aftertaste.
While "The Departed" has been praised as an "American epic tragedy","Içerde" is essentially about the ineradicable family bond between two long lost brothers that, defying time and space, triumphs against impossible odds. It follows that "Içerde's" success squarely rests on the shoulders of the two young leads -- Çağatay Ulusoy and Aras Bulut İynemli. And indeed, their performance is nothing short of brilliant, resulting in something much greater than the sum of their individual parts. With their relationship evolving from ruthless rivalry into unquestioned loyalty, the two young Turkish actors faced perhaps greater performance challenges than Leonardo di Caprio and Matt Damon. Sarp and Mert/Umut's interaction during most of the series is delightfully confrontational, alternating between spectacular fight scenes and utterly comic interludes. Later on, however, they are forced to trust each other. And after Mert/Umut discovers his true identity, the Yilmaz brothers appear to pick up their relationship right where they left it two dozens years earlier.
"Içerde" is so good that it manages to keep glued to the screen even those who tend to avoid mafia-type shows such as "The Departed". This is because it offers a great deal more than action-packed entertainment. It is first and foremost a story about the power of family -- i.e. the real one, and not the fake substitutes, which mafias, gangs, mobs, etc. allegedly offer. It is also a story about loyalty, honor, hope, justice, redemption and the fine line between good and evil. Second, it offers a stellar cast of young and experienced actors, who spare no effort in morphing into their characters. Third, "Içerde" is superbly written and produced, and also counts on outstanding photography and cinematic techniques. Fourth, the Turkish series contains fight scenes that are so amazingly choreographed as to make one forget about the violence involved. Finally, it includes an unforgettable soundtrack by the consistently outstanding Toygar Işıklı.
How did this series manage to remain week after week in the top spot of Turkish TV rankings, and -- at the same time -- withstand comparison with a movie of the caliber of "The Departed"? First, everything about "Içerde" is out of the ordinary. For example, in episode 33, Sarp and Mert meet on a building's rooftop for what they both think is their ultimate confrontation. This long fight scene is absolutely worth watching in its entirety. Interspersed with slow-motion flying bullets, flashback from their childhood, drying linen, color explosions, crumbling chimneys, mesmerizing music and the flight of a dove, it is nothing short of poetic. It makes one forget that the scene depicts two brothers, who are trying to annihilate each other. The other reason for "Içerde's" success is that it is a story about hope. While from the beginning to the end, "The Departed" offers a gloomy tale of corruption and despair, "Içerde" remarkably manages to deliver a feel-good ending amidst a great deal of tragedy.
In conclusion, "Içerde" is not to be missed. Those who enjoyed "The Departed" -- and may therefore be tempted to dismiss a Turkish remake a priori -- will be pleasantly surprised by the quality and originality of this intriguing and outstanding adaptation.