Reviews

'Soul Kitchen' Is the Latest from One of the World's Most Humanist Directors, Fatih Akin

This loose, shambling and funny about-face from Turkish-German maestro Fatih Akin confirms his place in the forefront of contemporary European directors.


Soul Kitchen

Director: Fatih Akin
Cast: Adam Bousdoukos, Mortiz Bleibtreu, Biro Unel, Pheline Roggan, Anna Bederke
Distributor: IFC
Release Date: 2010-12-21

Coming off directing two of the most emotionally devastating and formally rigorous films in recent memory (the near masterpiece The Edge of Heaven, and the absolute masterpiece Head-On), you can forgive the prodigiously talented Turkish-German director Fatih Akin for wanting to ratchet the intensity down a notch or two (or a hundred) and have some fun. Which is exactly what he does with his latest film, Soul Kitchen, a breezy, shambling comedy that manages to be a complete 180 from his previous films, while still displaying the same signature style and energy that put Akin on the map as one of Europe’s best young directors.

Zinos (a perpetually shambling and harried Adam Bousdoukos) is a young German hipster of Greek descent, trying desperately to keep his ramshackle warehouse restaurant afloat, despite the fact that he’s not a very good chef, has no real staff, and few customers. He's also trying to keep his recently paroled brother on the right side of the law; keep his relationship with his girlfriend together as she leaves for a new job in China; keep the tax officials off his back; keep the health office from shutting him down; and keep gangsters from stealing away his suddenly valuable waterfront property.

All these burdens become, understandably, quite crushing to poor Zinos, and he struggles mightily, as the film progresses, to walk upright in spite of all the pressures (quite literally, as one of the film’s early, literal gags has him throwing his back out moving an ancient dishwasher, thus hobbling him with a hernia for the remainder of the film). An endless string of screw-ups and disasters revolving around his love life, his brother and the restaurant ensue, and keep the film humming along at an agreeable pace. Though some fairly unpleasant (and predictable) misfortunate befalls Zinos along the way (loses his girlfriend, loses his brother, loses his restaurant), the film is too good natured and light to court the tragedy that Akin evoked in his previous films.

In fact, it seems at times that Soul Kitchen is a refutation of, or at least the antidote to, the miserabilist fatalism of Head-on and Edge of Heaven, finding a joy, or solace, in the absurdity of Zinos’ plight. Akin’s primary concerns haven’t changed – family, national identity, displacement and home – but in Zinos’ crappy little restaurant – full of friends and chaos and rhythm and soul – he may have found a safe, happy haven from the crushing weight of the world.

So even though Soul Kitchen feels (somewhat ironically) weightless at times, its screwball comic sheen does cover a more serious interior if you want to dig a little bit. Akin’s focus on the immigrant/expatriate experience in Germany (here, Greek instead of his usual focus on Turkish immigrants) is, as always, never far from his mind, nor is his concern with issues of family, both biological and “adopted”.

The denizens of the kitchen are a typical rag tag bunch of misfits (of the sort that inhabited the café in Amelie, if a little grittier), including a psychotic, Gordon Ramsey-ish chef (Biro Unel, the lead from Head-On) who has an unfortunate tendency for going after diners with his chopping knife; a hipster manic-pixie-dream-girl type waitress, who falls for Zinos’s ne’er-do-well brother; and a crusty sea captain who rents the front part of the restaurant to store his broken fishing boat. It would probably be all a bit to twee if they didn’t all seem so damn cozy and right for each other, propping up Zinos and keeping him from falling completely into despair.

Boasting a great old school '60s and '70s soul and R&B soundtrack that belies the films gritty look and setting, Soul Kitchen’s unexpected looseness and abrupt about face in tone just further cements my already held belief that Fatih Akin is one of the most confident directors and humanists working in world cinema today.

The only special feature accompanying the DVD release of Soul Kitchen is a 35-minute behind the scenes feature, a good portion of which is just director Fatih Akin and star Adam Bousdoukos (who were fast childhood friends) shooting the shit about the origins of the film. Turns out a good portion of it is taken from Bousdoukos’ own past career as a fledgling hipster restaurateur, to the point that Akin jokes that Soul Kitchen is more appropriately a documentary than anything.

A good portion of the footage comes from on-set as well, filming various key scenes of the film, and it generally looks like it was as much a blast to make as it is to watch. A loose, party atmosphere pervades the whole production, which I wouldn’t have expected from Akin, who seems such a rigorous perfectionist director in his other films. I was also shocked to learn that somehow Soul Kitchen, despite its modest scope and limited setting, ended up being his biggest budget film, even though it lacks the continent hopping and stylistic ambition of his other films. Akin attributes most of this to his choice to use Super 35 film stock for shooting.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.