Where Are You Going, Habibi?

The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival opened this weekend close to where I live (it continues through the 20th). I was happy the opening slate on Friday included a film about wrestling. I saw the first screening with two friends, partially as a birthday celebration (their birthdays--am I terrible friend? No, because they picked it with me in mind. I have wonderful friends.) Subtitled in English, the 2015 German-Turkish-language film (original title Wo willst du hin, Habibi?) concerns Ibo, a gay Berliner of Turkish descent in desperate need of a job but facing employment discrimination on the bases of his name and appearance. (Played by newcomer Cem Alkan, he is gorgeous, but that's beside the point.) A chance encounter with a straight petty criminal and pro wrestler motivates Ibo to find out more about the guy and enter training for professional wrestling to get close (tightly close) to the handsome blond Ali (played with appropriate bad-boy energy by Martin Walde).

The first third of this film is must-see for gay wrestling fans. The chemistry between Ali and Ibo is just the right mix of lust, opportunism, and fear. There's a hot scene where Ibo must grope for keys in the gym-pant pockets of Ali, whose arms are broken. The scene leaves everything to the imagination, but somehow it's like nothing's really left to the imagination. This bit of subtlety aside, the filmmakers are smart enough to give audiences plenty of opportunities to look at the two leads' bare torsos and asses. The scene of them training together in the ring boned me up in, like, a second and a half. I have seen better wrestling, but I was almost hoping that there would be no more wrestling so I wouldn't have to hide a throbbing boner through a full-length movie. As it turns out, I should be more careful what I hope for.

The rest of the movie, apart from additional opportunities to view Walde's and Alkan's bodies, is bad: too many plots (all tied together in a fevered rush in the final minutes), too much cheesy pop music to hide the fact that scenes aren't fitting together, too many tacked-on "messages" to make the film appear to have a moral stance and (worse) "a heart." (By the way, I'm fine with social consciousness and heart when they arise organically from the story.) The acting is pretty good, but the two leads are the standouts. The wrestling training school is never seen again. Ali and Ibo have to find other reasons to take off their shirts, apart from wrestling. Sad.

My friends, who are not at all into wrestling, voiced the same criticisms as I did. (They are, however, into cops and cowboys so my presents to them were appropriately themed porn on DVD.) Despite the story's quick disintegration post-wrestling, I seriously would consider buying the movie just for the early scenes in the wrestling academy. I was rather shocked how vulnerable I was to the mere employment of a few basic wrestling throws and holds. I might have thought I'd be more jaded to that now.


  1. I saw this movie in Toronto and loved it.

  2. Being gorgeous is never beside the point. :)

  3. Thanks for this writeup! I'd love a discussion on other masculine gay-themed movies out there. Obviously, Brokeback and Milk are the two biggest ones.

    On Netflix, I've always enjoyed Boy Culture which got a fair bit of indie success following a hot escort as he navigates sex, relationship, friendships. Sounds cliche I know, but really well done and the lead is a great gorgeous actor and there's great story and great eye candy.

    I also enjoyed the Fluffer, though it doesn't have great reviews. HBO just put out the Looking movie, which was a great wrapup to a short-lived series that I feel like was just beginning to get its legs. An older film I liked was the Wedding Banquet (also directed by Oscar-winning Ang Lee who did Brokeback) about cultural expectations clashing with a semi-closeted lifestyle.

    Sorry if these are off-topic.

    1. I like all the films you mention, except the Looking film, which I haven't seen (but I agree with you about the series). In the past year I have liked several Eastern European films with gay themes: Land of Storms is one, another is In the Name Of. These are fairly dark and troubling (as is another film I just remembered: Eastern Boys), but they are free of the glibness I associate with a great many gay films by American directors. Also have you seen Charles at the Farm (Canadian film)? A French film I like quite a bit (from the late 1990s) is Fogi Is a Bastard--again, very dark. Floating Skyscrapers, a Polish film, got good reviews. I thought it was okay, not one of my favorites.

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