Zenne | Zenne Dancer
DIRECTOR: Caner Alper, Mehmet Binay | WRITER: Caner Alper | CAST: Kerem Can, Erkan Avci, Giovanni Arvaneh | Turkey
Two plot lines have been yoked together in Zenne. The major plot concerns a young and flamboyantly out-of-the-closet belly dancer named Can (pronounced “John”) and his attempts to escape mandatory military service by living in Istanbul with his hip young aunt and her cool-with-it boyfriend rather than back home in smaller Izmir with his doting and accepting mother where he is presumably known and less able to hide. Asserting one’s homosexuality is not enough to get out of military service (“We can always use a go-go dancer” one of the draft board officers tells Can); photographic proof that one is the penetrated partner in anal intercourse must be provided to the draft board and that is not something Can wants to do.
The other plot line is based on the true story of Ahmet Yıldız, a young man from the conservative east who has come to Istanbul for college but also to find himself as an openly gay man. His family insists on controlling him long distance; they suspect but do not know for certain that he’s gay until he comes out to his father by phone. The consequences are fatal. This is the story the movie should have focused on and though there are connections between the two plots — Ahmet and Can know each other, as a little boy Ahmet wanted to dance like a ballerina and was severely beaten by his implacably harsh mother for it, Ahmet willingly provides photographic proof to the draft board — they seem artificially bound together.
The movie as a whole suffers when it shifts to Can. It may be that his story is tired and overly familiar, but it also feels slapdash and half-hearted. A better actor and for certain a better dancer than Kerem Can might have made a difference, but I doubt it. Erkan Avci, on the other hand, is perfect in the role of Ahmet. He’s sweet and touching and thoroughly believable as a young man who finally feels free enough to assert who he is. He’s actually happy. But the screenplay is not up to the material and neither are the directors. I feel churlish for not liking the movie more than I did. Plus two points for Erkan Avci’s performance.