By Maya Dukmasova
A warm, fuzzy movie is always a pleasure to have, especially when the plot is not too sappy, the acting not too false, and the happy ending is preceded by enough dramatic tension. In all of these aspects, Fatih Akin’s “Soul Kitchen” is a great success.
Up until the release of his 2009 comedy, Akin has been largely known for writing and directing films with heavy subject matter, often focusing on stories of Turkish immigrants and their children in Germany. His award-winning films “Head-On” (2004) and “The Edge of Heaven” (2007) are parts of a planned trilogy which is supposed to conclude with the eventual filming of “The Devil.”
This year’s Panorama of the European Film presents a Fatih Akin retrospective. In addition to “Soul Kitchen,” “Head-On,” “The Edge of Heaven,” and “Crossing the Bridge, the Sound of Istanbul” will all be screened.
These films explore the themes of social malaise in the collective experience of Turkish immigration. They focus on a search for belonging both in the European community and in their characters’ homeland.
After the release of “Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven,” Akin admittedly needed a break before completing his ambitious, long-term project. The death of a close friend and producer of these films also played a role in the director’s desire to break into something fresh.
Akin told ABC’s “At the Movies”: “I felt kind of exhausted and sad after ‘The Edge of Heaven’ and I had a feeling like if I now go out and do “The Devil,” the third part of the trilogy, that would … I don’t know, that would kill me. I didn’t feel like I have the power now. I wanted to do something in between.”
“Soul Kitchen” centers on Zinos Kazantsakis (Adam Bousdoukos), a young man of Greek descent who owns and operates the unassuming titular restaurant in a blue-collar district of Hamburg.
A string of crucial events quickly set the plot in motion: Zinos’s girlfriend (Pheline Roggan) leaves to work in Shanghai; his crooked brother (Moritz Bleibtreu) is released on parole from prison; Shayn (Birol Ünel), one of the city’s top chefs, is fired from his job at an exclusive restaurant right in front of Zinos; and an old classmate turned pimp and entrepreneur, Thomas Neumann (Wotan Wilke Möhring), runs into him on the same night.
Money is tight and Zinos decides to take a chance and hire Shayn to revamp Soul Kitchen. While the simple patrons first reject Shayn’s expensive reinventions of their favorite meals, they soon reconsider, spurred on by hunger and the irresistible draw of the restaurant.
Soul Kitchen becomes a bustling art and music center until Zinos decides to sign it over to his brother and go to his girlfriend in China. No sooner does he depart that Illias loses the property to Neumann to cover his gambling debts. The rest of the film becomes a desperate and hilarious quest by the two brothers, their friends and employees of Soul Kitchen, and the old Greek man who lives in the same building, to reclaim the restaurant.
The film is packed with action, bright colors, situational irony and strings of unfortunate events. The soundtrack is abundant with great soul music classics; moments of drama are skillfully interspersed with vibrant dance sequences, cooking montages, and sequences of happy collaborations.
Star actor and co-writer Adam Bousdoukos’s own restaurant in the Altona neighborhood of Hamburg served as the inspiration behind the film. Akin insisted that the goal of the film was to represent the Hamburg he knew and the lifestyle of his community there.
Despite being light, the creation of the film was a challenge for Akin as he explained in the same ABC interview. “It was very, very difficult doing the film. What the film gave back to me was very positive … But in case of how to do it and where to put the camera and the screen play and the work on it, that was much more difficult than the other films. But now I feel ready to finish the trilogy.”
Akin also pointed out that “Soul Kitchen” was a marked departure from the character development in his prior work.
“In the previous films, all of my characters are looking for a home, they’re looking for identity. Here there is no quest anymore. Here the characters know where they’re coming from and they fight for it, they protect it. They don’t have this problem of a desire for Greece. Greece is not their home anymore; Hamburg is their home.”
“Soul Kitchen” is screening on Saturday, Nov. 6, at CityStars cinema, 9:30 pm.