Ibrahim (Cem Akkanat) is Belgian-born, of Turkish descent, Muslim, and gay. He’s due to marry his cousin Elif (Gamze Tazim), stuck in rural Turkey, but Ibrahim’s eye is on Kevin (Simon Van Buyten), the cute young man who works in a diner with his mother Marina (Karlijn Sileghem). When Ibrahim invites Kevin on his trip to Turkey, the interfering eye of Elif’s admirer Yusuf (Hakan Gurkan) throws all plans out of forward motion, and the repercussions will affect Ibrahim’s entire family.
A title like Mixed Kebab might lead you to expect a spicy, bright and flavourful film – all of which Mixed Kebab is, in places. But more surprisingly, its main ingredient is some measured and intelligent dramatic conjecture on the conflict between tradition and progress, and how this affects every member of the culture. Kevin and Marina are by far the most satisfied characters, and their whiteness is cast into contrast with the struggles Ibrahim and his brother Furkan (Lukas De Wolf) go through, even if writer-director Guy Lee Thys includes subtle intimation that Kevin bares the secrecy of his relationship with Ibrahim more silently.
Thys’ script gives unusually generous thrift to all of its characters – Elif is a fully fleshed out character, permitted her own scenes and desires, at least for the time that she’s relevant to Ibrahim’s story. Yusuf’s arc from young hooligan to dogmatic Muslim takes up even more time, but ultimately can’t make sense without overwhelming the main story. Thys is, perhaps, lucky that Akkanat and Van Buyten have such warm and softly erotic chemistry – the early stretch of their story, where Kevin’s sexuality and desires are unclear, provides the film with peculiar electricity, before shifting into a more romantic familiarity.
But Mixed Kebab‘s strongest suit is the sure-footed way it captures the uncertain territory between different generations and different points-of-view. When Ibrahim rejects his crying mother’s pleas to get married anyway and cover up his shameful desires, his honesty and defiance feels like a heroic moment, a brave and progressive stand against oppressive cultural traditions. But his sister immediately calls him ‘selfish’, and Thys isn’t afraid to show the bitter truth of that accusation in the parents’ cold shoulder from their community. Built into his script are also quiet little truths about misogyny, sexism, homophobia and violence – it’s an impressively intricate script, even if the breadth of subplots doesn’t quite come off.
Mixed Kebab has a lot of tough meat on its skewer. A lame pun, perhaps, but accurate for the straightforward manner in which Guy Lee Thys approaches the familiar subject of a clash of generations and the conflict between Eastern and Western culture, and thankfully also an accurate description of Akkanat and Van Buyten’s more revealing moments – minus the skewer. It’s an absorbing hour and a half displays refreshing honesty about all sides of a divergent moment in a family’s life. Eat up.
Mixed Kebab is available now on DVD from TLA Releasing via Amazon.