Soul Kitchen

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Review by © Jane Freebury

When everything else goes wrong, there’s a chance you’ll find a funny side to it after all. That’s what the very talented filmmaker Fatih Akin seems to be telling us this time round.

In The Edge of Heaven, he explored where immigrants can find themselves in the spaces between cultures, and his characters died with a sad inevitability. His break-through film, Head-On, came in 2004. It was a brilliant study of the desperate, tragic situation of a young Turkish-German couple, socially isolated and bent on self-destruction.

In Soul Kitchen, the immigrant characters live on a knife edge too, but with exuberance and passion, and they tend to focus on good things in life – like food and sex – that you don’t need a credit card to access. This is an unexpected comedy from a writer-director who has made his name with sterner stuff.

Soul Kitchen seems to be looking for a good excuse to party. This celebration eventually takes place with a multicultural mix of students, first generation Greek immigrants, and blond Germans – including a tax office representative who really lets her hair down. While all the way through the continuous musical backing, sounded much like a dance party mix to me.

There’s a story in there somewhere. Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) is trying to manage a struggling business, as well as a one-sided affair with his girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan). His no-good brother in gaol has expectations of assistance. The girlfriend flies off for work in Shanghai, the brother heavies Zinos for work on release, and an unscrupulous property developer homes in on his business and tries to close it down.

It’s not like the restaurant Soul Kitchen is a crowd magnet. What would you expect in a depressed post-industrial district of Hamburg? The locals’ taste for hamburgers and fried food doesn’t exactly inspire Zinos’ creativity, until he hires a new chef who impressed him when he refused to heat up gazpacho for a boorish customer in a restaurant elsewhere. His new recruit Shayn (Birol Unel, unforgettable in Head-On and Tony Gatlif’s Transylvania) also has a talent for knife-throwing which could come in handy—you just never know.

Now Shayn’s creativity is boundless. He peels the batter off fish fingers, carves a tomato into a rose, and serves it with crushed chips – a marvel of nouvelle cuisine that no one seems to appreciate.

There is plenty to enjoy in this big-hearted, jovial romp with a motley band of urban gypsies, and Bousdoukos who co-wrote with Akin makes an appealing hapless hero. But the character vignettes don’t quite come together for the narrative to take over. As a comedy, it just didn’t quite hit the mark for me, however I still enjoyed the company.

In a capsule: An unexpected comedy, from a director who has made his name with tragic cross-cultural dramas, that tells the story of a hapless restaurater and really just wants to party. This it does very well.

3.5 stars