Soul Kitchen is a 2009 German comedy film directed by Fatih Akın, with a screenplay by Akın and Adam Bousdoukos, Bousdoukos based the story on his own experiences as the owner of a Greek tavern named “Taverna”, where Akın was a regular customer. Akın filmed the movie entirely in the Hamburg area.
“Soul Kitchen” is a lively, easygoing farce filled with high-energy music and amusing complications. It sounds like the least likely film to be written and directed by Fatih Akin, which is quite a change from his previous films such as the devastating “Head-On” and the somber “The Edge of Heaven.” Though he’d written this film before those two, he admits in a director’s statement that after their success, “I didn’t find ‘Soul Kitchen’ important enough.” He soon changed his mind and, aside from the desire to remind himself “that life is not only about pain and introspection,” it is easy to see why he did.
On one of the movie’s posters, right at the top, is this quote from John Lennon: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” What I am being enjoying here are Akin’s usual concerns displayed in a fooling-around mode. For though his tone couldn’t be more different, “Soul Kitchen” shares with Akin’s other films a fondness for offbeat characters who live life to the hilt as well as a thematic interest in the way individuals of foreign backgrounds interact with the dominant German culture.
Soul Kitchen is a profound and cool movie, with very real characters of attitude. The story is tenacious, passionate & above the charms of those characters proves they are witty, gritty and stupid. Akin’s story telling is more through the camera than the dialogue. He has the touch of a master filmmaker. Every frame of this movie seems perfect, whether a close-up, a medium shot, or a long shot.
The fish out of water this time around is the protagonist Zinos Kazantsakis, a Greco-German who runs a restaurant called Soul Kitchen in an industrial zone on the outskirts of Hamburg. As played by Adam Bousdoukos, whose restaurant ownership inspired the script he ended up co-writing, Zinos is powered by the juices of life and knows no speed but full speed ahead.
His culinary skills could profit from another glance or two at a Julia Child cookbook and Soul Kitchen is an established neighborhood restaurant as a dependable purveyor of edibles and has attracted a motley crew of loyal customers. Romance, however, is about to provide a speed bump. Zinos’ upscale girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) is headed off for a multiyear journalism posting in Shanghai, and he would desperately like to join her. But he can’t bear to leave his restaurant even though the food he makes never manages to rise to the level of indifferent.
Adding yet another flavor to the mix is Zinos’ brother Illias (top German actor Moritz Bleibtreu, the star of “Run Lola Run” and “The Baader Meinhof Complex”). Illias is a con man on a prison work-release program who wants a de facto job with no responsibilities that will leave him free for his criminal pursuits. Zinos hires him too, which angers some of the other employees. But no one can stay mad very and long because they get to play their rock and roll music in the place
The other important character is Shayn, a more accomplished chef who is sacked from a fancier restaurant because he refuses to compromise his expert skills. One day, a fussy customer insists that Shayn microwave a cup of gazpacho, which of course is supposed to be served cold. Shayn’s righteous anger ignites, and he goes ballistic on the customer, reading him the riot act about respecting the food. The restaurant manager fires Shayn on the spot. Zinos, who is also in the restaurant having dinner with his family, follows Shayn outside and in a little conversation, Zinos offers him a job.
Shayn continues to alienate just about every diner in Soul Kitchen because he is Jamie Oliver to Zinos’ Colonel Sanders. The clientele wants the greasy, deep-fried food that they expect from Zinos, and they balk and vote with their feet when they are treated instead with Shayn’s healthier delights.
Zinos refuses to give up on his new chef. In fact, he wants to learn from him. Shayn is patient with his pupil, even going back to the very basics like the proper way to slice a cucumber. Pretty soon, Zinos is back in business, and the new dynamic duos have a lot of fun in the kitchen. One time, they put an extra dose of an aphrodisiac into a fancy sauce. This inevitably leads to an orgy in the restaurant. There is so much going on in “Soul Kitchen” that you’d run out of breath before you could relate it all. That may sound tiring to experience but in fact watching this entire plot on screen actually energizes the viewing experience.
The film also has its moment with Zino’s with an unscrupulous businessman buys the restaurant behind Zinos’ back, and here is when Zinos slips a disc trying to lift a dishwasher by himself, the film’s generous helpings of physical comedy come into play, culminating in a wild scene with a terrifying physical therapist named Kemal the bone cruncher, who Akin insists is a real person he has personally patronized. So one thing leads to another, and his restaurant goes up for public auction. Zinos puts into motion a clever plan and fun follows with the frustration of Zino, who eventually restores the restaurant.
These characters, and lots more, interact in endless ways both expected and not. “Soul Kitchen” even finds the time and space to take comic pokes at German bureaucracy, from restaurant health inspectors to tax assessment officials.
This film is a laugh riot, and the actors in this movie are a familiar fare with Akin’s movies. Looks like Akin work with a stable of actors who obviously feel comfortable with each other. They come across as absolutely sincere, no matter if the emotion is attraction or anger. And I don’t know how he does it, but Akin has a way of photographing his actresses in a very sexy way; the camera caresses them like a lover to make them glow…..
The zippy narrative gains extra punch from an eclectic music soundtrack featuring American soul classics from the likes of Sam Cooke and Kool and the Gang, ethnic Greek music, and German hip-hop and electronica. Add delectable-looking food and a zany assortment of characters, and you’ve got the recipe for a potential art-house crossover hit…. Soul kitchen’s tasty recipe works
Awards: 2009 Venice Film Festival: Special prize