Fatih Akin is one of the world's most interesting filmmakers. Head-On (2004) was his first international statement but it was Edge of Heaven (2007) that really changed everything, winning Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival and creating critical waves around the world. If you haven't seen it, you're missing one of the best films of the 2000s. Edge of Heaven was a complex emotional gauntlet and so it's not surprising to see Akin follow it up with something that's a bit lighter on its feet and less emotionally daring. At first, the tone, set-up, style, and even the name of Soul Kitchen may lead you to believe that it's more of an inconsequential lark than is actually the case. Yes, the stakes of the plot of Soul Kitchen may not be the material of high drama, but this is a great little character-driven comedy, merely another excellent film from a spectacular director who would be a household name if foreign films got the audience they deserved in this country. And he's not even 40.
Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) is the troubled manager of the Soul Kitchen, a Hamburg restaurant with a bit of an identity crisis to match the personal problems of its owner. Zinos' stunning girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) is about to leave for a job in Shanghai and Zinos seems to take the life change as an inspiration to alter the lack of passion and creativity in his restaurant. At a going-away party for Nadine, he watches the chef of the restaurant, Shayn (Birol Unel of Head-On) get fired for nearly stabbing a guest who asked to make his gazpacho hot and decides to hire him to spice up his own joint. Meanwhile, Zinos' brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreau of The Baader Meinhof Complex) gets out of prison on a work release program and begins employment at the kitchen, where he starts a relationship with a snarky waitress named Lucia (Anna Berderke) and even a career as a DJ at the place. Meanwhile, an old schoolmate of Zinos (played by Wotan Wilke Mohring) hatches a plot to steal the kitchen right out from under his nose. Far less episodic than it may sound, Soul Kitchen is pretty much just a character study built around a restaurant more than a symbolic tale about food. This is not a German Big Night. The food scenes are spectacular, like most of the movie, but they're not the focus.
Like all of Akin's work, Soul Kitchen pulses with an energy that you just don't see in many movies. He can take an ordinary scene like Shayn kicking out the regulars at the Kitchen for not wanting to eat his food (by calling them "culinary racists!") and make it feel remarkable. A sequence later in the film in which Illlias and Lucia begins to flirt at a dance club would be generic in so many other director's hands but it has a passion of filmmaking that only the greats bring to the medium. There are a few food/crowd montage sequences but even they pulse with a distinct energy. And he's simply spectacular with actors, drawing characters from them who feel completely three-dimensional mere moments after we meet them. Even the small roles in Soul Kitchen feel fully-realized.
There were a few times when I felt that Soul Kitchen was a bit disjointed as it leapt from character to character and subplot to subplot and I couldn't shake the feeling that Zinos was the least interesting character in the piece – the straight man when I wanted to spend more time with the more outgoing personalities of the supporting cast. But you should give into Akin's film like you would a great meal. Each course may taste drastically different and you may not be able to pronounce all of the ingredients or understand how they fit together, but you can still savor the flavor. Very few directors have as much flavor as Fatih Akin.
Rating: THREE AND A HALF BONES
Reviewed by Brian Tallerico (MovieRetriever.com Film Critic)
Release Date: September 10th, 2010
Starring: Adam Bousdoukos, Moritz Bleibtreu, Birol Unel, Anna Berderke, Pheline Roggan, and Wotan Wilke Mohring
Director: Fatih Akin
Writers: Fatih Akin & Adam Bousdoukos