Soul Kitchen


Review by Willard Manus

SOUL KITCHEN, the entertaining new film from Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin (Head-On, The Edge of Heaven), is aptly titled. Set in a warehouse restaurant in Wilhemsburg, which is roughly to the city of Hamburg what Long Island City is to Manhattan, SOUL KITCHEN is bubbling over with food, drink, sex and music. When you add irreverence, social commentary and comedy to the mix, it makes for a potent and bracing stew of a film.

Demir Gökgöl as Sokrates, Anna Bederke as Lucia, Moritz Bleibtreu as Illias, Adam Bousdoukos as Zinos, Pheline Roggan as Nadine, Lucas Gregorowicz as Lutz and Birol Ünel as Shayn in SOUL KITCHEN directed by Fatih Akin (from left to right)
Photo credit: Corazo´n International / Gordon Timpen
An IFC Films release

The young Greek-German actor Adam Bousdoukos plays Zinos, the owner of Soul Kitchen, a dingy, disorganized eatery in an industrial corner of Wilhemsburg. Bousdoukos, who co-wrote the screenplay with Akin, once owned just such a joint, which explains why SOUL KITCHEN has such veracity and vitality. In the film Zinos comes off as a well-meaning but hapless kind of guy; he serves up ghastly food to his regular customers, a bunch of raffish characters from the neighborhood, a mixture of workers, bohemians and layabouts. They couldn't care less about the cuisine; what draws them to Soul Kitchen is its ambiance, its great music (everything from rembetika to hard rock to jazz), and its owner. Zinos exudes warmth, good spirits and humanity. He may be a lousy manager and an even worse chef, but he knows how to create a home away from home for his patrons, a place of laughter, refuge and community.

Zinos has his problems, though. To begin with, his sharp-tongued girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) is a journalist who is being transferred to Shanghai by her newspaper. Zinos truly does want to be with her, but if he goes to China who will run his restaurant? Since his brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu) is a petty thief out on parole, he decides out of desperation to hire a gourmet cook, Shayn Weiss (Birol Unel). Shayn starts turning out nouvelle cuisine which the regulars hate so much that they begin to boycott Soul Kitchen.


Moritz Bleibtreu as Illias and Adam Bousdoukos as Zinos in SOUL KITCHEN
directed by Fatih Akin
Photo credit: Corazo´n International
An IFC Films release

The drop-off in revenue results in unpaid bills and complaints from the landlord. Then a health inspector (Jan Fedder) shows up and threatens to close down the joint. Next comes a virago from the tax office (Catrin Striebeck) who confiscates the stereo system. On top of that, Zinos throws his back out and begins hobbling around in a permanent stoop, like Quasimodo.

Worst of all, a real-estate shark, Thomas Neumann (Wotan Wilke Mohring, an ex-clubowner himself), swims into view, smelling blood. He'd love to sink his teeth into Soul Kitchen and rip it to shreds as part of a plan to gentrify Wilhelmsburg and make millions for himself.

How Zinos fights back against city hall and urban renewal gives SOUL KITCHEN much of its drama, suspense and relevance. Akin brings the battle to life in an original, deft and audacious way. Using montage, quick scenes, artfully staged confrontations and lots of bawdy humor and stinging satire, plus lashings of sex and drugs, Akin manages to turn his story into a romp, a wonderful and heartwarming comedy.

SOUL KITCHEN won the Special Jury Prize and the Young Cinema Award for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival 2009. It was also screened at the Toronto and Tribeca film festivals. Chances are, it will have a long run in general release.