A closeted Antwerp man’s juggling of his tradition-minded Turkish family’s expectations and a best friend-turned-boyfriend propel “Mixed Kebab.” Belgian writer-helmer Guy Lee Thys’ film recalls “My Beautiful Laundrette” in its busy agenda of seriocomic culture-clashing issues, even if the authorial wit here isn’t quite as sharp. Risking over-contrivance at times, the whole is nonetheless crowd-pleasing stuff that stands to do particularly well at gay fests, where it should pick up steam toward healthy offshore home-format and possible limited theatrical sales.
Starting things off a little too on-the-nose, the pic’s protag (Cem Akkanat) introduces himself via voiceover: “I’m Ibrahim, I’m Turkish. I’m Bram, I’m Belgian. I am a Muslim … and I’m gay.” Fortunately, things get less glib fast as we learn more about his world. He’s smitten with blond, blue-eyed Kevin (Simon Van Buyten), who works at a cafe run by his open-minded mother, Marina (Karlijn Sileghem). Though normally a slick pickup artist, Bram (who deals cocaine as a sideline to his job with an upscale caterer) is unsure of Kevin’s sexual leanings.
At home, however, Bram is Ibrahim, exemplary eldest son to emigre parents (Ergun Simsek, Tanja Cnaepkens) proud to have resisted liberal Western ways more firmly than many back home in Turkey. The thorn in their side is Ibrahim’s younger sib, Furkan (Lukas De Wolf), an angry teen who’s turning into a little thug, skipping school and committing robberies with equally rudderless pals. Wise to his brother’s hidden life, Furkan outs Ibrahim to take the heat off himself, but the family simply doesn’t believe him.
That leaves Bram free to invite Kevin along when he goes to Turkey — a trip intended to confirm his arranged-marriage plans with educated cousin Elif (Gamze Tazim), though that becomes a mere obligatory aside to the two men’s joyful consummation of mutual attraction. Their cavorting doesn’t go unnoticed, or unphotographed, by a hotel porter (Hakan Gurkan) whom not-so-chaste Elif has been fooling around with. Presented with evidence, she proves too hellbent on moving West to be swayed from Plan A. But those photos will wreak havoc yet.
Mix of comedy, romance, intrigue and religious/cultural tensions is smoothly handled for the most part, even if the pic’s increasing seriousness feels a little lopsided, particularly when a late instance of turnabout violence prompts all-around reconciliations a mite too conveniently. Nonetheless, “Mixed Kebab” enjoyably balances numerous themes and plot strands with brisk skill, presenting the gay relationship in an upfront manner without ever turning into a solely niche-aud-focused item. Ensemble cast, location choices, and tech/design contributions are all lively and spot-on.