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A feature film about an unusual trio: Daniel, a German photo-journalist in Istanbul without much knowledge about Turkish values. Can, a flamboyant, out and proud male belly dancer with lots of love and support from his family, and Ahmet born to an eastern and conservative family whose quest for honesty and liberty results in a tragic end. ZENNE Dancer is inspired by true stories. Written by
Brilliant Film about Prejudice, Tradition and Freedom
ZENNE's real thrust is suggested by an epigraph at the beginning of the film from the thirteenth century mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī attesting to the power of the dance to unify people regardless of age, race or sexuality.
Can (Kerem Can) is a dancer at a gay club, whose act quite literally consumes him so that he can forget his troubles outside. They are numerous; not only is he expected to do his military service, but he has to cope with the trauma of losing his father in battle and his brother Cihan (Tolga Tekin) suffering mental disturbance as a result of his army experiences.
Can's close friend Ahmet (Erkan Avcı) enjoys the freedom of İstanbul to give full rein to his sexuality, but is shackled by his family living in Urfa in the east of Turkey who expect him to return home and marry a nice girl. In particular his mother Kezban (Rüçhan Çaliskur) has a malign influence over him, even having him shadowed while living in İstanbul.
ZENNE looks at the dead hand of tradition, which prevents Can and Ahmet from fulfilling their potential both professionally as well as sexually. They are expected to follow well-trodden paths, even if they are manifestly unsuited for that purpose. The co-directors M. Caner Alper and Mehmet Binay emphasize how restricted their opportunities actually are, despite their apparently free gay sexualities. In the end they have to toe the family or the national line, otherwise they face grave consequences.
Yet ZENNE introduces one further dimension to the story in the person of Daniel Bert (Giovanni Arvaneh), a German photographer domiciled in İstanbul who is trying to come to terms with his own personal trauma experienced in Afghanistan. As a photographer he takes a scopophilic interest in Can's lifestyle - so much so that he wants to photograph the dancer. Yet by doing so he is trying to assume power without responsibility; to "capture" the Turkish dancer in the photographic frame without understanding in the least the constraints that inhibit Can's behavior. The same also holds true for Daniel's relationship with Ahmet; the German naively thinks that Ahmet can escape his family duties by emigrating to Germany.
In the end none of the three protagonists achieve their ambitions - the victims of an often indifferent world that refuses to acknowledge difference and inhibits understanding. Nonetheless there remains the power of the dance, which has the power to join disparate souls together, even if only for a short time.
Brilliantly photographed, combining colorful dream-sequences with an acute sense of İstanbul's less salubrious areas, ZENNE deserves to be regarded as a classic of contemporary Turkish cinema.
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