Soul Kitchen

Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen is a jubilant celebration of urban life and its discontents. Akin and star/co-writer/former restaurant owner Adam Bousdoukos meant the film as sort of a modern, urban heimatfilm, and to the extent that it celebrates community, it is a strange sort of multi-ethnic success in that regard.   The film concerns Zinos Kazantsakis...read more

Reviewed by Josh Ralske
Rating:

Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen is a jubilant celebration of urban life and its discontents. Akin and star/co-writer/former restaurant owner Adam Bousdoukos meant the film as sort of a modern, urban heimatfilm, and to the extent that it celebrates community, it is a strange sort of multi-ethnic success in that regard.

The film concerns Zinos Kazantsakis (Bousdoukos), a Greek-German owner of a greasy spoon on the outskirts of Hamburg. As his striking blonde aristocratic girlfriend prepares to leave for Shanghai for business, Zinos, who is reluctant to abandon his restaurant to go with her, begins to take Soul Kitchen more seriously. When he injures his back, he hires a cantankerous but passionate chef, Shayn (Birol Unel of Akin’s Head-On), who reworks his menu in a way the locals don’t appreciate. Meanwhile, Zinos’ older brother, Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu of The Baader Meinhof Complex), gets out of prison on work-release, and has his eye on the restaurant’s hard-drinking waitress, Lucia (Anna Bederke). Just as business begins to pick up, Zinos has to contend with the machinations of an elementary-school chum, Neumann (Wotan Wilke Möhring), who has become a ruthless real-estate developer.

The ensemble cast, which also includes the lovely Dorka Gryllus (Irina Palm) as Anna, Zinos’ near-angelic physical therapist, is uniformly strong. The well-modulated performances, the consistently soulful soundtrack, and Akin’s gritty visual style keep the film grounded in the real world, even as the plot takes some unlikely, and -- as in the case of a comically disrupted funeral scene -- overly broad and obvious turns.

Akin is first and foremost a visual storyteller, and Soul Kitchen is at its strongest when he lets his images do the talking, as in the scene where Illias first falls for Lucia while watching her dance in a club. A simple low-angle shot of Anna as she works on Zinos’ back, meanwhile, clues the audience in on what their future might hold. A “learning-to-cook-with-Shayn” montage might have felt cliched in other hands, but the bumping soundtrack, Akin’s assuredness, and the skill of his cast make such moments feel fresher than expected. Similarly, evil real-estate developers are not exactly new to the cinema, but Akin infuses his story with enough energy and underdog empathy that we can’t help but root for the good guys.

This relatively lightweight, upbeat comedy is new ground for Akin, who made a splash with the hypercharged romantic drama Head-On, then seemed to take his critical success to heart, losing some of his unrestrained vitality with the more standard arthouse fare of The Edge of Heaven. It’s nice to see that Akin can make a film so flat-out entertaining without losing his passion and integrity.

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