Kebab Connection is a bright, funny, if conventional ethnic romantic comedy co-written by Fatih Akin (Head On, 2004, and Crossing the Bridge, 2005), and four collaborators, including director Anno Saul. Centering on the life of aspiring film maker and German-born Turk Ibrahim, “Ibo”, (Denis Moschitto), Kebab Connection weaves observations about immigrant life in Germany, youth culture, and globalization into a familiar narrative about love and responsibility and the differences between generations and cultures. Little in the film is likely to surprise, but its good nature, winning cast, and fundamentally positive outlook on the ability of people to be decent to each other makes it enjoyable and satisfying to watch.
Kebab Connection begins with a voice over, in German, of two men attempting to order doner, a Turkish meat and flatbread sandwich. The film cuts from black to an overhead shot of the sandwich and a woman’s voice informing the two men that there is only one doner left. The camera pulls back to reveal the counter on which the sandwich rests, and two men squaring off, clearly with the intent to fight over it.
In medium close-up, one man appears to be of African descent, and the other of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean background. The film cuts to close-ups of their hands as they draw swords (while a customer in a back booth considers ducking out). What ensues is a two minute, 30-second version of just about every wire fu movie you can think of, including a scene of flying “leaves”, (napkins in this case), and the decapitation of one of the combatants. By the end it of its running time the audience learns that this little drama is actually an ad for Ibo’s Onkel Ahmet’s (Hasan Ali Mete) restaurant, “King of Kebab”, and Ibo is its auteur. The ad serves as an introduction to Ibo’s polyglot world: one where German-born Turks become obsessed with Hong Kong cinema, where Turks and Greeks play out ancient rivalries in fluent German, and aspiring actresses rehearse Romeo and Juliet for a school audition.
After scene setting, Ibo’s German girlfriend, Patricia, “Titzi” (Nora Tschirner) begins the main narrative by announcing that she’s pregnant. This news gives rise to both drama and comedy. Ibo is tossed out of the family home for getting a German girl pregnant. Titzi holds Ibo at arm’s length, worried that he is not up for this responsibility. This idea partly comes from her mother (Marion Martienzen), who, upon hearing that it is Ibo’s baby, asks, “Ever seen a Turkish guy with a baby carriage?” Much of the comedy comes from Ibo’s superficial attempts at proving his worth: pushing a stroller in public, changing a diaper, attending a Lamaze class.
The film takes a refreshingly low-key approach to the questions of difference, and underlying issues of prejudice and discrimination that drive its narrative. Ibo’s family, and particularly his father, Mehmet (Güven Kiraç) end up “adopting” Titzi, even as they continue to keep their distance from Ibo. Titzi’s doubts about Ibo are clearly more related to Ibo as an individual, and his particular readiness for fatherhood, than his Turkish-ness, which is not terribly pronounced. Tangential stories, particularly those involving familial relations, also display a similar tendency to see individuals rather than groups.
While eschewing deterministic views of identity, Kebab Connection does represent its younger generation as being generally unconcerned with the boundaries of ethnicity. Ibo, with his fixations on Hong Kong action cinema and the martial arts — to the point of being guided in a dream by Bruce Lee, and not Mohammed, Allah, or Kemal Atatürk — personifies a circle of young Germans who seemingly construct their identities more through the things and images of global pop culture than through their family lineages or tribal-esque blood ties. This is not to suggest that Ibo’s friends reject their ethnic heritages, but that they do not appear to be particularly moved to either assert or reject those aspects of themselves. Indeed, despite the Romeo and Juliet allusions, Ibo and Titzi never seem all that star-crossed as lovers. Doubts about Ibo’s ability to commit and to share needs and dreams with Titzi and a new baby are what keep the couple apart far more than their different ethnic backgrounds.
An argument can be made that the film soft pedals anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany, particularly that directed against Turks. However, Kebab Connection is at heart a romance, and the openness of the younger generation and the fundamental decency of their elders are necessary to make the eventual, and inevitable, reconciliations credible. If the film has any notable flaw, it is that it weights itself down with too many complications. The rivalry between “King of Kebab” and the Greek taverna across the street seems to exist almost solely to provide the final block, and lowest point, in the road that Ibo travels towards getting his act together. Another subplot involving a trio of mobsters is even less consequential. It’s possible that one or both of these storylines could have been more tightly integrated into the main narrative, but I would have preferred more time with Ibo and Titzi’s friends and families and fewer extraneous hijinks.
The pleasant predictability of Kebab Connection is a reminder that conventionality is not always a curse. Certain kinds of stories get told over and over again because they express optimistic sentiments that are likely to appeal to a wide audience. The pleasure here lies not in shock or surprise, but in seeing just how the expected end is brought about. Kebab Connection‘s appealing ensemble and willingness to downplay its central tensions in favor of showing its characters, particularly its leads, as real people and not as stereotypes personified, delivers its conclusion in fine fashion.
Most importantly for a romantic comedy, the movie persuades you to root for Ibo and Titzi, knowing that their being together is better than their being apart. As a matter of philosophy, in a world riven by divisions, where identifications with religion and ethnicity are literally seen as life-and-death matters, there are far worse messages than Kebab Connection’s humanistic one that love and decency can overcome barriers between people.
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The Kebab Connection DVD has German dialogue with English subtitles. There are no additional features.