Turkish-German director Fatih Akin served up some pure entertainment at the Venice film festival Thursday with Soul Kitchen, a story of changing fortunes in a Hamburg suburb in the throes of gentrification.
The film is the first to offer full-bore humor so far in the competition for the prestigious Golden Lion.
In contrast, Filipino director Brillante Mendoza unveiled Lola, a hard-hitting social commentary on the mean streets of Manila.
With just two days left for the jury led by Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee to pick a winner, Italian critics have put three films at the head of the pack: Todd Solondz s dark comedy Life During Wartime; Michael Moore s funny but frank Capitalism: A Love Story; and first-time Israeli director Samuel Maoz s Lebanon.
In Soul Kitchen, restaurateur Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) holds the whole world on his shoulders, but he also plays with the world like a ball, like Charlie Chaplin, Akin said.
It must be something to do with his hair, he s like Samson, he said, referring to the biblical figure whose superhuman strength was linked to his hair.
The son of Greek parents, Zinos is a long-haired, big-hearted youth who makes two round-trips from rags to riches with his restaurant in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg, where property speculation is rife.
The film is different from my earlier ones, a comedy with music and humour, said Akin, whose screenplay for the drama The Edge of Heaven won at Cannes in 2007. I wanted to laugh.
Things begin to go wrong when Zinos s bourgeois girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) is transferred to Shanghai and his do-nothing brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu) is allowed out on weekends from his latest stint in prison.
A new cook, described by Akin as a Don Quixote (who) wants to change the world, turns fish sticks and fries into a nouvelle cuisine sight to behold – but a turnoff for the regular clientele.
Things go from bad to worse for the lovelorn Zinos when he suffers a herniated disc and tax and health officials begin to hound him.
A combination of sheer grit, luck and chutzpah finally gather the wind back into his sail.
After his success at Cannes, Akin, 36, said he felt a slave to my success, to the expectations of others who expected a certain type of serious film, but at the urging of my producer (Andreas Thiel), now sadly deceased; I freed myself of everything and told myself that laughter is part of life.
Soul Kitchen is among 25 films in the running for the prestigious Golden Lion here, to be bestowed on Saturday.
In Mendoza s film, the second surprise selection in the 66th Mostra, a frail Lola Sepa (Anita Linda) is seen hunched under an umbrella torn by driving rain lighting a candle at the spot where her grandson was stabbed to death by a cell phone thief.
The grandmother of the killer, Lola Puring, also scratches out a meager existence in a Manila slum.
Both Lolas are weighted down by debt and hounded by loan sharks, the first for her grandson s funeral and the second for her grandson s trial, but both struggle tirelessly for the well-being of their families.
Also Thursday, Chinese director Guan Hu unveiled the most improbable of stories from the Sino-Japanese war that of a peasant and a Dutch cow left to fend for themselves.
The odd couple were the only survivors from the massacre of an entire village by invading Japanese forces, the peasant Niu (Huang Bo) having pledged to protect the valuable cow.
The lumbering beast, much bigger than local cows, briefly falls into Japanese hands before Niu manages to sneak her away in the heat of a battle with local forces.
Man and beast strike out together to face a hostile world.
A product of the oral history of Shandong province, one of many local legends, the story is thought to be largely true.
Huang said: I m just a small actor, and for me this was the first time acting with a great actress who weighs 1.7 tons.
The film, selected for the Horizons section in Venice, was shot in a remote location where people still have vivid memories of the Japanese invasion, Guan said. It was difficult to convince them that it was a movie and not reality.
Earlier, India s Rakesh Omprakash Mehra offered his black comedy Delhi-6 a about a second-generation Indian living in the United States who accompanies his ailing grandmother back to the homeland to die.
Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) at first finds assimilating easy, surrounded by love and tolerance, but he gradually becomes aware of underlying conflicts.
On the face of it, we re all very tolerant people, people with a straight face who teach our children to love and care, Mehra said.
But India s very old value systems are not relevant today. The mindset remains 1,000 years old.
The action is set in the teeming old quarter of New Delhi, known as Delhi 6, its postal code, where Mehra grew up.
It is like a microcosm of India, he said. If you were to shrink India it would fit into that city.