Love, friendship, food, family... and back pain. All five elements are mixed together and sautéed with delicious spices in Fatih Akin’s new film Soul Kitchen. Best known for his darker dramas Head-On and The Edge of Heaven, Akin decided to go back to the roots of the German "Heimat" (or "home") movies of the ’50s to make a light comedy about family and friends that create a home for themselves in the unlikeliest of places.
This home in question is the Soul Kitchen restaurant located in a waterfront warehouse in the city of Hamburg. Run by Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) a hot-headed Greek man with a slipped disc, he delights his customers with old fashioned soul food like fried fish, burgers, and fries. It’s an uncomplicated menu, but it works.
He lives with his girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan), a beautiful TV journalist who has just gotten an extended gig in Shanghai and wants Zinos to come live with her. But his commitment to the restaurant keeps him on the fence about leaving something he built from the ground up. To even consider leaving, he would need someone to manage the place. Enter brother Ilias (Moritz Bleibtreu), a felon currently in jail who has been granted time off on the weekends. However, he proposes to his brother that if he gets a full time job, he would be able to be out of jail every day from five in the afternoon to two in the morning. Zinos reluctantly agrees, essentially giving him a job doing nothing, as there is no way he would allow his irresponsible brother to run his restaurant.
But problems soon come in the form of Thomas Neumann (Wotan Wilke Morhing), an old classmate who has designs on the warehouse space and practically begs Zinos to sell it to him. When Zinos balks, Thomas undermines him by reporting the restaurant to the health inspector. To make matters worse, Zinos owes back taxes and until he can come up with the money, the tax office confiscates his stereo system. And for a restaurant whose theme is soul music, this is devastating.
What begins to turn things around, at least momentarily, is the hiring of the unconventional chef Shayn (Birol Unel), who was recently fired from a high-end restaurant because he refused to serve warm gazpacho to a customer. But his fancy menu ideas don’t go over well with Soul Kitchen’s current clientele and, as a result, the restaurant suffers. But when a local band brings in some of their fans to watch a rehearsal, the food starts selling like hotcakes, and the restaurant begins to thrive. All seems to be going swimmingly until Zinos’ back problems worsen, Thomas plots on taking over the space, Ilias gets into trouble, and Nadine delivers some bad news.
The rest of the film should be discovered naturally, as this is a movie that isn’t entirely predictable and is a joy to experience. The characters are fresh and fun, and the "family" that the Soul Kitchen creates is one you want to be a part of. While Zinos seems to always be yelling, he does so in such a charming way you can’t help but fall in love with his craziness. Waitress Lucia (Anna Bederke), who falls for Ilias, is another stand-out, grounding the film with a character that is eternally blunt and confident about what she wants.
Fatih Akin’s direction is reminiscent of a low-budget Goodfellas, with swooping camera movements and hand-held tracking shots that hover over the glorious food and the patrons of the restaurant. What’s interesting is that only natural light was used, allowing the filmmaker to shoot his film quickly, but to realistic and un-pretentious effect. Some directors would have shot the food languorously, lighting each rise of steam or bright red tomato as if it were otherworldly. Here, we feel like we are a part of the restaurant. We feel like we are a part of its soul. And this makes us care what happens to it.
Soul Kitchen is at once a simple film, but with rich characters and a heart as full as a stuffed chicken breast, it’s one that is easy to savor. Make your reservation now: you’ll want to come back again and again.
Zinos Kazantsakis :: Adam Bousdoukos
Illias Kazantsakis :: Moritz Bleibtreu
Shayn Weiss :: Birol Ünel
Lutz :: Lukas Gregorowicz
Anna Mondstein :: Dorka Gryllus
Thomas Neumann :: Wotan Wilke öhring
Sokrates :: Demir Gokgol
Nadines Grobmutter :: Monica Bleibtreu
Ziege :: Marc Hosemann
Milli :: Cem Akin
Lucia Faust :: Anna Bederke
üger :: Pheline Roggan
Producer, Fatih Akin; Screenwriter, Adam Bousdoukos; Producer, Klaus Maeck; Producer, Ann-Kristin Homann; Cinematographer, Rainer Klausmann; Film Editor, Andrew Bird; Casting, Monique Akin.