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Friday, May 10, 2013

Mixed Kebab DVD Review

Mixed Kebab is a truly interesting, engaging, and often moving love story about a gay Muslim man who falls in love with a cute Belgian man just before meeting the woman that’s been arranged to be his wife. It’s about family and family relations as much as it’s a love story. And the film is much more intense and serious than its DVD cover might lead one to believe.

In a bit of opening narration, Ibrahim (Cem Akkanat) – or, Bram, as he calls himself – introduces himself as a gay Turkish Muslim. It’s the only narration in the film. Bram has a decent job, and sells a little cocaine on the side. A marriage has been arranged for him by his family, and interestingly, the marriage is to be within the family, as he’s supposed to marry his cousin Elif. (Is that a normal occurrence within Muslim families? I don’t know.)

His younger brother, Furkan (Lukas De Wolf), is a teenage malcontent who harasses the local grocer, skips school and steals from the local diner. And he lashes out as his brother too, sensing that he’s different. Furkan calls him out at a family gathering, after Bram has told their parents about Furkan skipping school. The family seems disappointed in Furkan, but when the police show up asking for him, no one from the family tells them anything.  I like that a lot - that they may have their problems, but they stick together against any outside force. That makes what happens later all the more painful.

Bram’s father’s friend tells him he’s heard rumors about Bram. Interestingly, neither man comes right and names the rumor. It’s like it can’t even be directly spoken.

Marina (Karlijn Sileghem) runs the diner, and her son Kevin (Simon Van Buyten) works there. Bram becomes friends with him, and is clearly attracted to him. And when Bram is going to Turkey to meet the girl he’s to marry, he asks Kevin to come along, saying he needs the support of a good friend. At the hotel, the desk clerk assumes the two men will want separate rooms.

The only element of this film that feels a bit contrived is that Elif’s boyfriend works in the hotel where they stay, and that he just walks into Bram’s room in the morning and snaps photos of them. Granted, he calls “housekeeping” before entering. But then when he sees the two men asleep in bed, he somehow recognizes one as Elif’s fiancĂ© (presumably from a photo that Elif has shown him), and takes photos with his phone. (Or does he just take photos of all men in bed?)

Elif (Gamze Tazim) is beautiful, by the way. And when she and Bram meet, it’s kind of awkward between them, but also kind of sweet, which is nice. A lesser film would have made her awful in some way right off the bat. Elif bribes their chaperone to leave (although with Bram’s money), so that they can really get to know each other.

Meanwhile Furkan is falling in with a religious group, and channeling his feelings of anger and resentment into that activity. He still harasses that same grocer, but now with a religious zeal rather than just simple teenage anger.

There are lots of interesting cultural details in this film. For example, when Elif and Bram go to the hotel, Elif is informed that she’s not allowed in Bram’s room by the bartender, who then actually goes on to call her a whore. Good luck getting a tip, buddy. And when Yusuf, Elif’s boyfriend, shows her the photos, she tells him that doesn’t change a thing, that she’s still going to marry Bram. An interesting choice, but she is simply eager to get out of her small town.

Yusuf then sends the photos to Bram’s family. The scene where his family confronts him is intense. You feel some anger toward his family, but then almost immediately the film makes you feel sympathy for them as well, when the father is shunned by his friends, and his mother is refused service at local markets. I like that the film doesn’t allow you to consider anyone simply a villain (apart, perhaps, from some minor characters). Life is complicated and messy, and this film doesn’t dish out any easy answers. In fact, the film becomes more intense as it goes on.

This film has a very strong cast, particularly Cem Akkanat as Bram. Mixed Kebab was written and directed by Guy Lee Thys.

Special Features

The DVD has a few special features. The main one is “Interviews,” which has actor Cem Akkanat and director Guy Lee Thys talking about their experience in Cannes. Cem talks about how the film is a love story, and how his family is completely supportive of the film. Guy talks a bit about being surprised that gay bashing has increased. Surprisingly, both interviews are in English.

The special features also include a music video and the film’s trailer.

Mixed Kebab was released on April 23, 2013 through TLA Releasing.

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