Separation Anxiety: Co-screenwriter Adam Bousdoukos (right) plays Zinos, whose bad week gets worse when girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) decides to accept a job in Shanghai.
Not rated.With: Moritz Bleibtreu, Adam Bousdoukos, Birol Unel, Dorka GryllusIn German with English subtitles.
- Director: Fatih Akin
- Genre: Foreign, Comedy
- Running Time: 99 minutes
Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin isn't exactly known for slapstick, so Soul Kitchen has the feel of a palate cleanser. After the hard-edged drama of Head-On (2004) and The Edge of Heaven (2007), this boisterous comedy milling with scruffy misfits goes down more easily than an oyster on the half shell.
Adopting an aesthetic of multicultural grunge, Akin sets the film in a cavernous blue-collar restaurant in a scruffy neighborhood in his native Hamburg. The slap-happy Greek-immigrant owner, Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos, who also co-wrote the screenplay), is having a very bad week: His back is killing him; the tax inspector is on his tail; the health department wants to close him down; and his ambitious girlfriend, Nadine (Pheline Roggan), has accepted a job in Shanghai.
To make matters worse, the restaurant's operatic new chef (Birol Unel) is producing cuisine that's way too haute for the burgers-and-meatballs clientele, who have grumpily taken their business elsewhere. Of no help at all is Zinos' hapless brother, Illias (the marvelous German actor Moritz Bleibtreu), on day-release while doing time for robbery and more worried about dodging his creditors than helping his family.
Exhausted, Zinos decides to flee to Shanghai to reclaim his Skype-happy lover, making the ill-advised decision to leave Illias with power of attorney — which would be fine were there not a shady realtor (Wotan Wilke Moehring) waiting in the wings to snatch the rundown property for a wealthy investor.
Generous of spirit and big of heart, Soul Kitchen revels in sitcom humor, dovetailing coincidences and an arms-around-the-world embrace of eccentric misfits. A salty old seaman, an ebullient bunch of rock musicians, a strong-willed waitress (the terrific Anna Bederke) and a dreamy physiotherapist (the lovely Hungarian actress Dorka Gryllus) wander through its scenes, characters united by culture rather than country. Drawing inspiration from the restaurant that Bousdoukos himself once owned in the Ottensen neighborhood of Hamburg (where patrons could enjoy traditional Greek food), the filmmakers achieve an authentically scrappy melting-pot vibe that's enormously appealing.
I'm A Soul Man: German film star Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run) plays Illias, Zinos' hapless brother.
I'm A Soul Man: German film star Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run) plays Illias, Zinos' hapless brother. Corazon International
Formulaic but warmly so, the script extols the virtues of community and muddling through, its many-stranded plot uniting Greeks and Turks, regulators and the regulated, the gainfully employed and the defiantly drifting.
As Zinos transforms from good-natured slob to passionate chef — in cooking montages that pay spirited homage to classical kung fu movies — a multilingual soundtrack and finger-licking cinematography (by Rainer Klausmann) document his rebirth. To the denizens of Soul Kitchen, the family that feeds together is the only one that matters.