Guy Lee Thys (Suspect,2005; Kassablanka, 2002) returned in 2012 with Mixed Kebab, recently released by TLA. Lee Thys is a consummate all-rounder; writer, producer, director – all of those skills are used to great effect in this highly accomplished gay-interest release.
Mixed Kebab is fundamentally a love story between Bram (Cem Akkanat) and Kevin (Simon Van Buyten), but there’s so much more going on than that. Bram’s Islamic upbringing means that his parents have arranged for him to marry his cousin Elif (Gamze Tazim), something that Bram is happy to go along with, yet outside of family life, Bram is also a drug dealer. Bram’s brother turns to Islamic fundamentalism, and his fiancé is a dutiful religious daughter by day, but party girl by night. All that is just for starters.
With so many interweaving threads, this film was begging to be an utter mess; what we have is anything but. Lee Thys has deftly structured the film to allow the convoluted drama, and wonderfully complex characters, to thrive. Seeing the characters develop and unfold is mesmerising, with uniformly terrific portrayals from the entire cast. Bram is charismatic, misguided, yet essentially a loveable rogue – quite an achievement considering in the early stages of his affair with Kevin he’s busy pursuing a marriage with his cousin. He’s a man full of contradictions, yet his actions feel entirely natural, and his journey in to fully embracing his gay lifestyle is beautiful. Kevin, young and pretty, also possesses more than the two-dimensions required for such a role. He’s wise beyond his years, and the maturity with which he views Bram’s engagement is remarkable, but believable. Best of all is the stunning portrayal of Elif by Gamze Tazim; duplicitous and manipulative, yet fundamentally moral, the nuances of Tazim’s performance allow the character to smoothly traverse the extremes of temperament without descending into lunacy.
The fact that the characters are so richly drawn and compelling also allows the narrative to exist as more than an A to B drama; a myriad of subplots ensue, comedy and tragedy, with themes of racism, religious, bigotry, community, family, all tied so intrinsically that they seem to exist as one. A marvellous achievement. Sure, there are some narrative elements that seem to be reaching a little too far, for example a murderous fantasy sequence feels slightly misjudged when the rest of the drama is so strong, and ultimately is slightly insulting to our intelligence when we realise that none of the previous sequence actually happened (think Bobby emerging from the shower in Dallas), but this can be overlooked as it’s also at this point when you realise how much you actually care for the characters.
What’s also fascinating is how Lee Thys promotes a message of tolerance without judging the those who harbour prejudice, instead he wisely explores societal pressures which lead to intolerance; so rather the judgement falls squarely on archaic yet established mores, rather than individuals, posing us to question the motivation and circumstances of those we perceive to be bigots. Nor however does Mixed Kebab profess to ‘accept’ these views, but instead functions to expose the dangers that these views can create, both to the target of the bigotry, and the bigots themselves; another fresh perspective on the simplistic so-called ‘Good guy, bad guy’ portrayal of intolerance so often seen in film. Fundamentally this film can easily lay claim to being a ‘mature’ drama thanks to the wise insights of its creator, that’s not to say that it isn’t also simultaneously playful and engaging.
So, overall, lush cinematography, a great script, complex characters, accomplished performances and respectable production values all combine to make this an artful and masterful film. Extraordinarily enjoyable.
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