Kebab Connection – Review by Victoria Brinkerhoff

Filmed in 2004 and released in 2005, the German film Kebab Connection dramatically portrays the dilemma of a young Turkish man, Ibo, after he finds out his German girlfriend is pregnant. Falling into the genres of action, comedy, and romance, the film was directed by German writer and director, Anno Saul. Saul produced Kebab Connection to reach a German-speaking audience, as it is filmed entirely in German, although there are Turkish, Greek, and Albanian figures present in the film. Ibo is a 21-year-old, movie-obsessed, aspiring filmmaker and actor. In the midst of making commercials for his uncle’s restaurant and beginning his career, Ibo’s German girlfriend, Titzi, becomes unexpectedly pregnant with Ibo’s baby. He must face his traditional Turkish father, Mehmet, who disowns him and throws him out of the house after Ibo expresses a desire to raise the baby. Ibo must decide if he will start a new life with Titzi, raising their new baby of mixed backgrounds, or if he will not raise the baby and continue to focus on his new film career and remain an active member of his Turkish family and culture.

Kebab Connection takes place in Hamburg, Germany and reflects social and political developments in Germany at the time during which it was filmed in the early 2000s. In 2004, Muslims (the religion most Turkish people register as) constituted 4 percent of Germany’s population, and by 2005, the new Immigration Act removed barriers to legal immigration and officially recognized Germany as an “immigration country.” As an immigrant country, ethnic mixing became more prominent in society, and in 2005, one in four marriages were between Germans and members of other ethnic groups. Kebab Connection addresses several important debates arising from Germany’s transition into an immigrant country in this time period, which also relate to the topic of migrant identity that we have thoroughly discussed in the “Multiculturalism in Germany” course. At a time of higher immigration and mixed marriages, must migrants assume a new identity, and leave others behind, if they engage in the mixing? How can immigrants and their decedents engage in mixing and stay true to the cultural affiliations of their home country? Additionally, what importance does “staying true to one’s origins” have in a mixed society? The film Kebab Connection addresses these debates around identity affiliations and choices that come with ethnic mixing through the dialogue between Ibo and his father, as well as the depiction of Ibo’s slapstick, dramatized commercials. Through these elements, Saul aims to demonstrate to viewers the increasingly serious and complex cultural and identity choices that immigrants engaging in mixing are forced to make, through the use of ironic comedy.

Firstly, Ibo has several comedic conversations with his father, in which his father expresses his disappointment in him for getting a German girl pregnant. In one instance, Mehmet approaches Ibo while he is making a new commercial for his uncle, shortly after Ibo leaves Titzi. Mehmet asks Ibo why he abandoned Titzi, and Ibo answers that she was the reason Mehmet kicked him out. Mehmet responds by telling Ibo that he should have stayed with Titzi, because she is pregnant, which Ibo claims not to make sense, as he originally expressed disapproval in him staying with her. Mehmet then retorts: “Don’t talk to your father that way… Who is no longer your father!” While Mehmet’s comment is humorous, the subject of the conversation is incredibly serious, and his reaction reminding Ibo that he has disowned him pulls viewers’ attention to the issue at hand: his father has disowned him for not adhering to Turkish culture, and propagating it, through getting a German girl pregnant. According to Mehmet, like many other fathers of immigrant families in which someone engages in mixed ethnicity relationships and pregnancies, Ibo diverged from the morals and conduct that compose Turkish identity, which means he is no longer allowed to be a part of it. Mehmet’s comments and outlook also represent immigrant families’ frequent belief that “staying true to one’s origins” is a demonstration of respect for one’s family and culture. However, this dialogue between Ibo and Mehmet represents that Ibo’s decision not is simple, even to Mehmet—Mehmet also does not see it as “right” for Ibo to abandon his pregnant girlfriend to rebuild his relationship with his family; instead, it is a complex choice that many may face in a mixing society with strong immigrant identity ties, like Germany.

Secondly, Ibo’s second dramatic commercial for his uncle’s döner restaurant has several formal elements that symbolize the seriousness and complexity of his predicament now that Titzi is pregnant. The commercial is set as a mob scene—three mobsters enter the restaurant and begin to violently shoot Ibo after they ominously state, “I hope she was worth it.” Ibo then responds “never mess with a lovesick man,” throwing shuriken that cut their bullets in half, in slow motion. Ibo is unexpectedly struck by a bullet and topples on the floor, dying and bleeding from his face. The commercial is slapstick, which is characterized by absurd and humorous violent actions. In utilizing slapstick comedy, the scene ironically displays the seriousness of Ibo’s situation with Titzi and his family. The three mobsters symbolize his father; each is overdramatic in their entrance and their violence towards Ibo after asking if she (Titzi) was “worth” whatever he had done, as Mehmet is dramatic in disowning Ibo, now that to him, Ibo has committed a moral sin. The mobsters shooting at Ibo represents the consequences of his actions in getting Titzi pregnant: he must be disowned, or “killed off” from his Turkish family and identity. The slapstick, violent approach Saul chooses for this scene appears ridiculously unrealistic, yet it illustrates to viewers how difficult and serious the situation is for Ibo, and immigrants alike—he loves Titzi and desires to raise the baby with her (by saying “never mess with a lovesick man”), but to be forbidden from his Turkish identity is as serious as being killed.

As immigration continues to increase in Germany, the debates around immigrant identity choices become evermore complex. Recent films like Almanya (2011) explore the themes of immigrant identity crises and the mixing of ethnicities as families expand in modern, diverse societies; in portraying such themes, films are capable of raising awareness about crucial identity conflicts of immigrant populations within mixing societies.

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