(2009) director Fatih Akin
viewed: 09/09/10 at the Embarcadero Cinemas, SF, CA
I got turned on to the films of Fatih Akin about two years ago, so I was pretty excited to see his latest film, Soul Kitchen when it came to town this last week. Unlike Head-On (2004) and The Edge of Heaven (2007), which were both more melodramas, Soul Kitchen is much more light-hearted and, in essence, a comedy. Perhaps after those two heavier and heart-wrenching works, he needed a little lightening up.
Akin co-wrote the script with star Adam Bousdoukos, and it follows Bousdoukos’ character Zinos, a Greek-German, who runs a shoddy little neighborhood restaurant called “Soul Kitchen”. Zinos’ restaurant is his life, which he has a hard time abandoning for his wealthy blond German girlfriend, Nadine, who is taking a job in China. But as situations conspire, his brother is on day release from prison and seeks a job from him to appear legitimate, he injures his back and cannot work, and a conniving old schoolmate targets his building for a land grab, Zinos’ whole world is quickly evolving and spinning on its own. But after landing a talented but disenfranchised chef, Soul Kitchen begins to turn into a hipster paradise, with live music, deejays, dance school students, and becomes a fun and fabulous place.
There are a number of charming and appealing characters in the film, Zinos’ troubled jailbird brother Illias, his beautiful artist/waitress Lucia, and very much Shayne, the drunken brilliant chef, played with great verve and fun by Birol Ünel who was the star of Head-On. Even some of the smaller characters, like Illias’ criminal buddies or “Sokrates”, the older tenant who can never pay his rent, all of them add great likability to the film. I was reminded yet again of Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismäki in the types of characters and worlds that they create.
For all its charm, though (and it has a lot), the film is certainly light-weight. The plotting and storyline is pretty obvious after a while, especially the whole evil business character who tries to buy up Soul Kitchen. If you can’t see that he’s going to end up in prison after “fucking”, literally and figuratively, the “Tax Board” (and also simply because he’s the rather cartoonishly portrayed villain), then you must not be familiar with narrative in general. And while the character-driven humor, like Illias’ chain-flipping idiosyncrasy, are very fun and funny, some of the more physical moments are a bit more on the clunky side. Though Bousdoukos does a fine job walking as if in great pain throughout.
The film is fun, which seems like the best way to watch it. It seems like it was a fun film to make, a release of joys and play, hipsters and characters, like Soul Kitchen is a fantasy place that Akin and Bousdoukos wish was a real place that they ran. And it would be cool to go there. Everybody is nice and funny. It’s just not as weighty, inventive, challenging or interesting as the other films, though it carries on with this fascinating snapshot of contemporary Germany as as much a melting pot of cultures as any place in the world, and yet still very unique and in full sense of place.