Mixed Kebab is an apt title for this film as it has a bit of everything, from rom-com moments and immigrant drama, to coming out difficulties and the issues surrounding potential Islamic radicalisation. It’s a diverse range of tones and subjects – so that there are moments that play out as farce and others that present tense, nasty violence, and even one scene that looks like it’s fallen out of The Godfather. You’d think that would be a mess, but writer/director Guy Lee Thys manages to pull it all together to create an entertaining and surprisingly smart movie.
Bram (Cem Akkanat), who’s known as Ibrahim to his family, is a second generation Turkish immigrant living in Belgium, and as the eldest son he’s expected to make the family proud, which includes getting married and having kids. However there are rumours that perhaps he doesn’t like girls. His father is pleased when Bram agrees to go to Turkey to meet a cousin he’s promised in marriage to, but what his parents don’t know is that he’s taking his friend Kevin (Simon Van Buyten) with him.
Neither Kevin nor Bram has admitted they have feeling for one another, but after dancing around the issue for a while they can’t hold back any longer. Initially it seems Bram will still go through with the wedding, but then he discovers his fiancée’s boyfriend has been spying on him, and has compromising photos of him and Kevin.
Meanwhile back at home, Bram’s younger brother Furkan (Lukas De Wolf) is becoming a bit of a thug, robbing shops and getting into trouble. When he’s essentially thrown out by his father and arrested by the cops, the elders at a local mosque take him under their wing.
Mixed Kebab packs a lot into just under 100 minutes, telling an interesting story, full of complex emotions. As mentioned it is rather eclectic, but it works because of how well-rounded the characters are. For example, when Bram’s fiancée tries to blackmail him with pictures she knows could shame him in his community, it would have been easy to have painted her as an evil, manipulative bitch, but you can understand how after growing up in rural Turkey, she’s in thrall to the wealth and promise of the West that could be slipping through her fingers.
Likewise Furkan could have purely been a nasty thug and his increasingly strict views on Islam could have been used to underline what a bad apple he is. Instead it’s a rare case of a film that shows the potential radicalisation of a young man as actually being understandable for that character. Nobody ever tries to turn Furkan into a suicide bomber, but you can understand the appeal of belonging to something that seems to offer meaning to a young man going off the rails. It also doesn’t shy away from how dangerous some of the stricter ideas about Muslim life can become if not tempered by Imams who teach restraint and compassion, while also showing that there are positives to conservative Muslim teachings too.
The romance between Luke and Kevin is sweet, given a boost by an intelligent treatment of the issues facing the children of immigrants, not least the idea that the Turkish who’ve left their homeland may become more Turkish than those they’ve left behind (something that’s true of immigrants from many countries). A lot of complex issues are tucked into the film, from the difficulty of familial cultural pressures to the homophobia and racism in society. That may make it sound like it’ll be dull and worthy, but it isn’t. Mixed Kebab is an entertaining, sometimes funny film, that’s well made and well acted, with characters it’s easy to get caught up with and moments that are surprisingly moving.
Overall Verdict: A great little film with a strong and sweet gay romance at its centre, which manages to deal with some complicated issues and ideas in a thought provoking and interesting way, while never forgetting to entertain the audience.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac