Lena Schneider (Josefine Preuss), the sensible but slightly neurotic daughter of Doria (Anna Stieblich), is a free-thinking psychiatrist with hippie tendencies. When Doria decides to send Lena on holiday to Thailand things start badly when she’s seated next to Cem Öztürk (Elyas M'Barek), a young Turkish-German man with raging hormones. Things get worse, much worse when an emergency landing leaves Lena stranded on a desert isle with Cem, his deeply religious sister, Yagmur (Pegah Ferydoni), and a stuttering Greek named Costa (Arnel Taci). But could there be a bright light at the end of this tricky cross-cultural tunnel? Meanwhile back in Germany Doria and Cem’s father, Metin (Adnan Maral), come into contact in the search for their missing children.
GERMAN FILM FESTIVAL: Barely reaching beyond its small screen origins in thematic terms, writer/director Bora Dagtekin’s Turkish for Beginners is a silly, sweet confection that pushes all of the low-brow romantic comedy buttons but exceeds none of its boundaries.
pushes all of the low-brow romantic comedy buttons
Based upon the hit German TV series that ran from 2006 to 2009, this big-screen reworking of the show’s interracial melodrama leans heavily towards the more twee aspects of culture-clash comedy. Series creator Dagtekin has uprooted his principal cast from their Berlin homes and transplanted them to the widescreen-friendly tropical climes of the Indian Ocean, by way of a graphically staged airline disaster. (The use of news footage that depicts the fatal 2007 Ethiopian Airlines crash is somewhat distasteful.)
Our key protagonists are uptight Gen-Y girl, Lena (an appealing Josefine PreuÁŸ) and posturing Turkish-German alpha male, Cem (a charismatic Elyas M’Barek). Having survived the emergency landing, they become stranded with Cem’s burkha-wearing sister Yagmur (Pegah Ferydoni) and stuttering Greek nice-guy Costa (Arnel Taci), on what they believe to be a deserted island paradise. Meanwhile, their respective parents, ageing party girl Doris (Anna Stieblich) and straitlaced cop Metin (Adnan Maral), are recovering at a resort where they begin to develop an 'opposites attract’ romance.
The preposterous premise overflows with real-world illogicality and is played at such a high pitch by the cast, serious consideration of race and gender inequality is all but pointless. Characters bandy about racist epithets as part of everyday language in a manner that initially shocks but soon becomes tiresome; when Cem blurts out the n-word, followed by an Asian putdown on the crowded plane, one wishes the enormous African man with the Chinese girlfriend sitting one seat across would just punch his lights out. That he reacts with barely a sideways glance adds further insult, the blame this time solely falling to scenarist Dagtekin.
A subplot involving a native tribe, at first thought to be cannibals, is worryingly skewed in its integration with the main plot. The castaways discover that the bushmen are living an integrated lifestyle with a beautiful German woman named Uschi (Katja Riemann), who has partly adopted their all-natural diet and pot-smoking traditions but also boasts of 'changing’ them for the better. Scenes in which she commands them with the wave of a hand suggest a superiority that sits uncomfortably within the context of the race issues the film purports to explore.
Credit goes to PreuÁŸ and M’Barek for playing their occasionally one-note, even unlikable characters, with admirable energy; their chemistry helps the overall tone of the film immeasurably. M’Barek, in particular, overcomes early scenes that overstate the crassness of his traditionally sexist point of view (though an end credit sequence in which his misogyny is given full-flight in a rap song he composes undoes a lot of the good work). Of the support players, Ferydoni and Maral have the best moments, but all background parts are generally underdeveloped and dramatically inert.