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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Food and Music for the Soul
by Misha Zubarev

A buoyant and resilient musical montage jump starts Soul Kitchen, a smart and sassy comedy about the capacity and vivacity of a new Hamburg Taverna struggling to stay open amid elements that almost cause its demise.

Writer/director Fatih Akin (Head-On, Edge of Heaven) creates more than a feel-good dramedy here. Soul Kitchen is character-driven comedic filmmaking at its finest. Akin says his movie is about a place one could call home, “not as a location, but as a state of being, and an attitude.”

When Zinos (Adam Bousoukus, also co-writer) loses his ambitious girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) to her career in Shanghai, stress leads him to strain and pain. He can’t get his mind away from her beautiful soft skin, her cute and petite nose, her long, sexy runway legs, and other unmentionable body parts. Because the thought of not seeing one’s girlfriend for an indefinite period of time is too strenuous for any man to bear,  Zinos brings this stress back to his workplace, where he injures himself while trying to lift objects beyond his means.

Zinos’ back injury causes him to hire Shayn (Birol Unel), a hot-tempered, bi-polar and recently fired gourmet chef. With a cleaver in hand, Shayn is not to be taken lightly. He’s not there to conform but to reform Soul Kitchen from a place catering to “fast food whores” into one drawing a decent crowd. Good luck with that!

Soul Kitchen features many creatures from all sorts of odd places, including freeloader Sokrates (Demir Gokgol), a bearded old captain who lives in the side garage of the restaurant where he keeps his boat. Sokrates is always late paying his rent, yet never misses a beat when it comes to a free meal. And, each time after getting away with it, he smiles like a kid who skipped school unnoticed.

And there’s Zinos’ ex-con brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu), who just got out of prison and wants employment in the restaurant so he can “go through the motions” without doing the restaurant dirty work. Lucia (Anna Bederke), an Uma Thurman-esque waitress who wants to be a full-time painter, is also among the unusual Soul Kitchen characters.

Of course, we can’t forget the two villains: Thomas Neumann (Wotan Wilke Morhring), the corrupt real-estate owner who tries to sabotage and take over Soul Kitchen; and Frau Schuster (Catrin Striebeck), a feisty cougar and cutthroat tax agent who’s there to collect the Soul of Zinos’ Kitchen. While all of these people are misfits, they serve their purpose -- and fit quite well into the story.

Besides boasting a fantastic character ensemble, Soul Kitchen emerges as a captivating movie without one false note. It’s well worth watching with friends and family. I’m not surprised the 2009 Venice Film Festival honored this film with a Special Jury Prize and Young Cinema Award.

Soul Kitchen was meant to be Fatih’s “recovery” film. His past two films, Head-On and Edge of Heaven, received critical acclaim but were “extremely strenuous and grueling” to make, so this was to be a “time out” from that type of experience. However, Fatih claims his latest film ended up being his most time consuming and most expensive one yet. By deciding to direct the movie himself, Fatih proved to be a resilient filmmaker capable of adapting to new styles while remaining a unique auteur. For Fatih, one of today’s most prominent German filmmakers, working on Soul Kitchen was another rewarding journey.   

 (Released by IFC Films: not rated by MPAA.)

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