Format: Cinema

Release date: 21 August 2009

Venues: key cities

Distributor: Vertigo Films

Director: í–zgí¼r Yildirim

Writer: í–zgí¼r Yildirim

Based on: L’instinct de mort by Jacques Mesrine

Cast: Denis Moschitto, Volkan í–zcan, Moritz Bleibtreu

Germany 2008

92 mins

‘If you want to be the best, you’ve got to earn respect. And if you want respect, you don’t show respect to anyone else. And if you don’t show anyone no respect, they think you fucking invented it.’ So runs the reckless mantra of í–zgí¼r Yildirim’s gritty gangster drama, Chiko, set in the immigrant neighbourhood of Hamburg’s rough Dulsberg district, its compelling hero portrayed with bristling intensity by Denis Moschitto.

Chiko, whose real name is Isa (Turkish for Jesus), is a street-smart young guy on the drug dealer career ladder, running a small business with his quick-tempered friend, Tibet (Volkan í–zcan), with whom he shares a yearning for cash, hot wheels and chicks. More than anything though, Chiko wants to get to the top and enjoy the power that comes with it, and he sets out to prove himself to the local drug boss, Brownie, by agreeing to sell 10 kilos of grass in 10 days on the condition that the merchandise must be sold from an apartment, not on the streets.

Although the operation is soon running smoothly and profitably for all involved, the amount of dope and cash that is suddenly crossing the table seems too tempting for Tibet, who scents an opportunity to beef up his share behind Chiko’s back and use the extra money to support his seriously ill mother, a plan that goes horribly wrong. Not only does he put his long-lasting friendship with Chiko at risk, but he is cruelly punished by Brownie in a moment of savage violence. As the story drifts deeper into genre conventions, Chiko finds some love and stability with the prostitute Meryam (a decent acting debut for Turkish-German rapper Lady Bitch Ray), but ultimately breaks under the pressure of trying to balance his own ambitions with his loyalty to Tibet.

Produced by Fatih Akin (director of the stunning Head On and most recently The Edge of Heaven), Chiko is writer-director Yildirim’s first feature and much like his aspiring hero, he makes no pretence about his own dreams and utter conviction, describing Chiko as his Scarface in the film’s production notes. But ambition alone cannot generate excellence and although Chiko has good pacing and is engagingly witty (some of which is unfortunately lost in the rather careless subtitling), the film’s largely predictable plot is laced with clichés and a slick visual style that gradually defuses its fierce tension, leaving it to a strong cast to carry the film until its final act of desperation and ferocity. The vibrant hip hop soundtrack and well-tuned dialogue lend polish to the drab suburban location, but the mix of raving social commentary and dynamic storytelling is only half-convincing, and Yildirim’s film remains a straightforward rise-and-fall story about a small-time dealer with big dreams, whose reach turns out to exceed his grasp.

In spite of its flaws, Chiko is persuasive in the way it recreates the milieu in which the characters struggle to make it to something bigger and better than what is expected of them, but its uneven blend of social criticism, domestic drama and gangster tragedy illustrates just how difficult it is to capture that distinctive Scarface quality.

Pamela Jahn