Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Fatih Akin, director & co-script w/Adam Bousdoukos
Starring: Adam Bousdoukos (Zinos Kazantsakis), Morit Bleibtreu (Illias Kazantsakis), Birol Unel (Shayn Weiss), Anna Bederke (Lucia Faust), Pheline Roggan (Nadine Kruger), Dorka Gryllus (Anna Mondstein), Wotan Wilke Mohring (Thomas Neumann), Udo Kier (Herr Jung), Monica Bleibtreu (Grandma Kruger)
Zinos Kazantsakis has a problem. His girlfriend Nadine has left him to go to Shanghai on a long-term journalistic assignment and he can’t afford to join her. He owns a local restaurant in Hamburg, Germany called Soul Kitchen, which serves simple, hearty food. Zinos could sell the joint and join his girl but truth be told, he loves Soul Kitchen and his crazy staff—artist and waitress Lucia, musician and waiter Lutz and the new addition, moody uber chef Shayn, who is intent on transforming the menu from working-class to haute cuisine.
In Fatih Akin’s quirky new comedy Soul Kitchen, Zinos has to plunge down to the depths of his soul to realize how his life should be spent. Comedies about life should be effervescent but Akin’s soufflé doesn’t rise; the film has too much suffering between some lovely scenes of warmth and intimacy. Worse, Akin, whose last drama The Edge of Heaven was so well scripted that it won prizes at Cannes and the European Film Awards, hasn’t really structured the film all that well. It’s as if he thinks he doesn’t have to try as hard because he’s making a comedy.
Wrong. It’s far more difficult to make a comedy than a drama.
After Nadine leaves, Zinos hurts his back so badly that he has to see a physiotherapist. Good news: she’s beautiful. Bad news: he doesn’t get better. Akin seems to think it’s funny for his protagonist to stumble around Hamburg with an awful back but that kind of slapstick only works if it’s played well. And Adam Bousdoukos is no Charlie Chaplin.
He is a reasonably good actor, though, so the film intermittently flickers to life as Bousdoukos’s Zinos helps his imprisoned brother Illias to get a new start as a worker in Soul Kitchen. Fortunes improve at the restaurant as Shayn’s fine dining technique begins to pay dividends and a new—stolen—sound system and a dj attract a late night crowd. Just when Zinos and the audience starts to relax in a kind of mid-70s groove, everything goes haywire—only for peace to be restored in the end.
The annoying thing about Soul Kitchen is that the good parts– Bousdoukos’s performance, the blooming romance between Lucia and Illias, the late night party scenes—are so good that you want the whole film to work. But it doesn’t. Soul Kitchen gives you half a good meal: the appetizers and desert are fine but watch out for the main course.