In When I’m Done Dying, we follow the struggles of aspiring rapper, Fehmi (Oktay Cubuk), as a psychedelic drug named Bonzai ravages his spirit and ambition. Writer/director Nisan Dag works with acclaimed Turkish beatmakers and rappers Da Poet and Hash to craft a lyrically complex and visually stunning film.
We watch helplessly as Fehmi fights to suppress the demons of his addiction. He finds love in DJ Devin (Hayal Koseoglu), and even she is not enough. Devin doesn’t know about his addiction until she’s already in too deep. Every interaction the two of them have makes you long for their bond to weather the storm. Fehmi’s friend Yunus (Eren Cigdem) wants him to save up for a proper studio so they can record music together. His brother Erdem (Ushan Cakir) covers for Fehmi every time he’s late for work. Impeccably rendered hand-drawn animation segments force their way into the film every time Fehmi gets high on Bonzai. They have a sketchy, nightmarish quality reflective of the mental deterioration of Fehmi as he falls deeper into his addiction. Certain parts are very difficult to watch due to the subject matter (though thankfully, there are no needles).
Moments of levity balance out the darkness of the plot. In one of the cutest scenes, Fehmi makes the argument that pigeons are actually rappers because they “walk like us.” It doesn’t make much sense, but Devin sure digs it. Another funny scene addresses the legend that Tupac’s friends smoked his ashes: “Imagine the lyrics you’d write with a Tupac high.” The dialogue (and the lyrics too) don’t get lost in translation from Turkish to English.
When I’m Done Dying is almost a Turkish spiritual successor to 8 Mile. Like that film, the music towers above all else. Every rap sequence is singular and varied, with none sounding the same. The first live performance is bursting with energy, and each subsequent one is a joy to watch. Oktay Cubuk spits his verses with vigor and intensity. Defined by musicality and the richness of character study, When I’m Done Dying is a poetic examination of dreams, addiction, and poverty.
When I’m Done Dying screened at the Seattle International Film Festival, April 8th – April 18th, 2021.