Soul Kitchen (2009) dir. Fatih Akin
Starring: Adam Bousdoukos, Moritz Bleibtreu, Birol Ünel, Pheline Roggan
By Alan Bacchus
What a 180 shift for Fatih Akin, the (deserved) winner of the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes 4 years ago for his so very serious contemplative Alejandro González Iñárritu-like international drama, “Edge of Heaven”. “Heaven” was a great film, but so formal, so clever and earnest in its message about forgiveness and empathy, it was on the exhausting side of cinema. Thus, Akin’s new film, a brilliant comical farce set in a down and out German restaurant feels like a film made after sniffing some potent smelling salts.
Zinos Kazantsakis (also co-writer Adam Bousdoukos) is a hapless restauranteur introduced to us serving frozen vegetables, Captain Highliner fish sticks and other uncreative truck-stop foods to his satisfied but uninspired working class clientele. When the public health inspector gives him a bad report card, his beautiful girlfriend decides to move to Shanghai for a journalistic assignment, and he slips a disc in his back, Zinos' world teeters on the edge of collapse. But when he hires a fired primadonna haute cuisine chef Shayne (Birol Ünel) to run the kitchen things start to look up. Shayne’s creativity making chicken fingers look like Fois Gras appears to turn his business around. Suddenly Soul Kitchen becomes a hopping joint with full on DJs, rock bands, and nightclub dancing.
Enter Zinos’s brother, Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu), fresh out of prison on dayleave, who has been given co-power of attorney authority on the property. Illias gambles away the building in a poker game to a bullish real estate investor. Add to the fact that Zinos’ girlfriend has left him for another man in China puts Zinos on near suicide watch. But a number of events, and unplanned coincidences result in a miraculous turnaround of luck throwing Zino back in contention in the restaurant business and with a new girl on the horizon.
Fatih Akin mixes the pace of screwball classics, with a “Raising Arizona’ zaniness, anchored by a real world everyman hero in Zinos. Akin has his running shoes on at all times, never letting us rest in between clever character introductions, brilliantly choreographed food preparation set pieces, and a number of wild energetic musical numbers.
Akin and Bousdoukos's tight screenplay is of the American romantic comedy template variety. But with the fresh German faces, frenetic reckless pace and a willingness to go for every gag it barrels over any Apatow, Sandler, or Ephron comedy over the last few years.
If any film this year were to come close to ‘Slumdog Millionaire’-feeling of exuberance and warm fuzzies upon leaving the theatre it would be “Soul Kitchen”. The final credit sequence doesn’t feature a choreographed Bollywood dance sequence, but the flashy graphic credits set to it ‘It’s Your Thing” by The Isley Brothers comes pretty close.