After the bleak Head-On and the moving The Edge of Heaven, director Fatih Akin returns with something altogether more buoyant in the comic Soul Kitchen. Warm and funny, it's the tale of what happens when a ramshackle Hamburg dive takes an unexpected turn into haute cuisine. If IFC can find a way to overcome the objections of the subtitle-challenged, they could find themselves with an arthouse hit on their hands, as this comedy offers plenty to savor for foodies and RomCom fans alike.
Actually, foodies might want to hurl when they get their first glimpse into the Soul Kitchen. German-Greek proprietor Zinos (co-writer Adam Bousdoukos, who owned a Hamburg restaurant in real life) has got the "soul" part down, as he fills the space with the sounds of American soul and funk, as well as the Greek rembetiko. His handle on the "Kitchen" aspect is shakier as he offers a menu that closely resembles American middle school cafeteria fare: frozen pizza, mac and cheese, breaded fish and a handful of items whose preparations involve either a microwave or a deep-fryer.
All that changes when Zinos meets recently fired chef Sheyn (Birol Ünel) and decides to hire him. The Soul Kitchen's regulars are aghast (they actually liked the old menu) but the place catches on with a new cast of characters. Zinos could be the toast of Hamburg, except with success comes a whole new set of problems. The biggest of these for Zinos is his desire to join his journalist girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) in Shanghai, which leaves him with no one to run the restaurant in his place save his brother, Illias (Akin regular Moritz Bleibtreu), an ex-con fresh out of prison with a notable lack of work experience.
Even when things are going right they are really going wrong. Bousdoukos resembles a cross between Jim Morrison and Jason Patric and those looks, the music and the leather jacket suggest an eternally cool hipster. That image is under assault almost from the beginning, but the more tattered he gets, the more charming he becomes and an equally appealing cast of eccentrics surrounds him. A soundtrack that ranges from Curtis Mayfield and Louis Armstrong to Pavlov Sidiropoulos and Hans Albers is delicious, a word that also describes the appearance of the food Sheyn prepares. This is one of those movies designed to whet the appetite.
As in Head On and The Edge of Heaven, Akin emphasizes the ethnic diversity that characterizes modern Germany in Soul Kitchen. The tone is lighter, with laughter replacing tears, befitting a film in which the characters have much less at stake. It's also celebratory, as the Soul Kitchen emerges as a lively cross-cultural stew where everyone has something to contribute and all are welcome. The comedy may be slighter than Akin's other recent work, but on its own terms it is every bit as engaging.
Cast: Adam Bousdoukos, Moritz Bleibtreu, Pheline Roggan, Demir Gökgöl, Birol Ünel, Wotan Wilke Möhring and Anna Bederke
Director: Fatih Akin
Screenwriter: Fatih Akin and Adam Bousdoukos
Producer: Fatih Akin, Ann-Kristin Homann and Klaus Maeck
Genre: Comedy; German- and Greek-languages, subtitled
Running time: 99 min
Release date: August 20 NY