By Gary M. Kramer.

This ambitious Turkish film is often artificial and pretentious.”

Screening as part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, February 4-7, the ambitious Turkish film, The Cemil Show, opens with a black-and-white square frame sequence from the (fictional) B-movie Kabus. Actor Turgay Göral (Basar Alemdar) is carrying a woman to a rooftop. Suddenly, the action cuts to color, and widescreen. Cemil (Ozan Çelik), an actor, is recreating the scene from Kabus in an audition for Ismet Ozenir (Cezmi Baskin), who is helming the remake. However, the veteran director is frustrated by the hapless Cemil, and walks out, leaving the vain actor wondering what promise Ismet saw in him. He also thinks he can persuade the filmmaker to give him the Turgay role if he can just get another chance.

The Cemil Show chronicles the protagonist’s efforts to get the part he desires at all costs. But this meta film, directed by Baris Sarhan, slips in and out of fiction, fantasy, and reality, never quite gelling as it repeatedly folds in on itself.

The drama starts when Cemil, who works as a security guard in a large Istanbul shopping mall, discovers that is colleague, Burcu (Nesrin Cavadzade) is Turgay’s daughter. He wants her to introduce him to her father, thinking that Turgay will give him insight into the character in Kabus so he can land the part. However, Burcu is focused on her affair with Zafer (Alican Yücesoy), their boss. Since Cemil stumbled upon Zafer and Burcu in a compromising position, he leverages things to secure an introduction to Turgay. Alas, upon arriving in the famed actor’s apartment, Cemil discovers that Turgay is dead.

The Cemil Show, which is also the name of a 2015 short directed by Sarhan and starring Çelik as the same character, has Cemil assuming the role of Turgay both in life and in fiction. It is a moderately clever conceit, and Sarhan does feature a few sequences that shift back and forth between the black-and-white film-within-a-film and Cemil’s efforts to recreate what is on screen in real life.

But Cemil’s determination is not very engaging. The film suggests Cemil is delusional in a grand manner, and late in the film, Cemil sees his döppleganger. However, the effect is more muddled than illuminating. Sarhan does not really have anything novel to say other than art imitates life, or in Cemil’s case, life imitates art.

There are other strange narrative curlicues. One sequence has Cemil enacting a revenge fantasy on Ismet, which may suggest madness. There is a black-and-white sequence featuring Turgay in an old film where he runs around a movie set before getting trapped in a phone booth – only to have things twist into something else. There is some promise when Cemil reads from Turgay’ unpublished memoir, but most of these episodes feel slight and gimmicky even if they show Sarhan’s visual skills as a filmmaker.

The Cemil Show does have some decent moments, namely when the film crosscuts between Cemil shaving and dressing up to look like Turgay –putting on a mustache and filling in his eyebrows – while Burcu is removing her hair extensions and false eyelashes as well as her makeup. Another strong visual shows Cemil haunted or inspired by Turgay when the late actor appears superimposed in a scene.

But Sarhan’s film is often artificial and pretentious. Watching Cemil reenact scenes from Kabus for a suspected thief at the shopping mall or for Burcu in her apartment, one can appreciate his mimicry, but it is hard to feel anything for his character. Cemil is so deep into his acting that when has breakthroughs or breakdowns it is hard to tell which is which. Moreover, whether or not he achieves his goal ultimately becomes unimportant.

To the film’s credit, Çelik does give a committed performance, and he spends the film’s final 20 minutes with his face covered in blood. It is just disappointing that he never quite emerges as a fully developed character.

The film’s operatic finale has Cemil getting to perform the scene from Kabus he has been repeatedly rehearsing in real time, for an audience. But it mostly comes to nothing. There is little impact from his “performance,” and the plotting, which suggests a love triangle playing out between Cemil, Burcu, and Zafer, feels contrived. The dramatic tension of this crescendo goes slack.

The Cemil Show is much like Cemil’s imitation of Turgay – well executed, but hollow.

Gary M. Kramer writes about film for Salon, Cineaste, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News, The San Francisco Bay Times, and Film International. He is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, Volumes 1 & 2

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