Film review: The Cemil Show (2021) by Baris Sarhan

The daily grind of a mall cop and his fantasies of the acting fame clash in Baris Sarhan's The Cemil Show. Cinephilia, the trope of the hapless protagonist going mad and the clash of the two worlds, one being contemporary, realistic and soul-crushing, and the other being fantastic and even heroic, make up for an incendiary mix in Baris Sarhan’s feature debut “The Cemil Show” that premiered at IFFR’s Big Screen Competition. As a festival, Rotterdam is not often associated with crowd-pleasing movies, but “The Cemil Show” is a bit of a standout in this year’s programme.

The Cemil Show screened atInternational Film Festival Rotterdam

The titular protagonist, played by Ozan Celik, is a security guard at a gigantic Istanbul mall. Instead of doing his job to the best of his abilities (let us say that he is not of the most dependable sort of people), he daydreams about fame as an actor. Instead of watching the monitors in the video-room, he is more keen on re-watching the old Yesilcam gangster movies. He gets his shot at fame when he auditions for the role of an iconic badass in a remake of the cult classic from the sixties, titled “The Nightmare”, which was played by his idol Tungay Goral. Needless to say, the stage fright gets the better of him and he botches the audition.

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His second “lucky break” is the cognition that his co-worker (maybe even a secret crush) Burcu (Nesrin Cavadzade) is Goral’s own daughter, so he uses the incident involving her and their manager, Mr Zafer (Alican Yucesoy) to blackmail her to introduce him to Tungay. Alas, before she manages to do that, Tungay dies, alone and forgotten by everyone except for the director of both the old and the new “The Nightmare” movies, Ismet Ozemir (Cezmi Baskir) that Cemil fails to impress at the funeral.
That does not persuade him to give up on his acting “career”, which leads to a chain of events in which he messes up something at his job, gets a concussion and decides to dedicate himself imitating Goral’s signature acting moves until he identifies with him and his screen persona completely. And since the trouble rarely comes alone, that kind of behavior leads him to the second blow to his head and the complete disruption of his sense of reality. He becomes Goral and any of his gangster characters from the movies…

Movie trailers used to play after the film.

Foolish characters harboring big dreams are not exactly a novelty in cinema, not even in Sarhan’s own filmmaking career (“The Cemil Show” is actually an expansion of his eponymous short film with which he shares some of the actors), and, as the writer and the director, he is well aware of it. He flirts with parody regarding his protagonist and his work situation (Zafer and his sidekicks are quite cartoonish bullies, while Burcu is a hysterical damsel in distress), but never crosses the line in that regard. However, the line regarding the exploitation is crossed near the end of the film, but for a well argumented reason.

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The sheer amount of cinephilia is actually the trump card in Sarhan’s storytelling and directing style. The situation at the mall is a full-blown melodrama (the second favourite Turkish Yesilcam B-Movie genre, after gangster stories), so the overly expressive acting by the commanding Celik, Cavadzade and Yucesoy does not poke the eye of the viewer. The second group of references are the musical, and the editing cues that mimic the old B-Movies style, for which both the composer Taner Yucel and the editor Evren Lus should be commended. However, the aspect “The Cemil Show” stands out for are the masterfully “faked” gangster movie excerpts with then young Tungay Goral (played by Basar Alemdar) playing an array of cigarette-smoking mustached villains, showcasing an impressive variety within the sub-genre. The camerawork by Soycut Turan is especially playful in those passages, while the granulation of the image is spot on. Although there is some lagging in the pace, especially in the first half of the film, and the idea is a bit stretched in the storytelling (the feeling is Sarhan could go deeper in a number of aspects regarding Cemil, his work, acting attempts and even film industry), so “The Cemil Show” feels a bit overlong with its 2 hours of runtime, it can still be considered more than a decent film and a sure-handed debut. There is no doubt that it could make a splash on the margins of the festival circuit (genre-specialized festivals or the late night slots at the regular ones) and in the theaters, especially on the home turf.

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