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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Hamburger Hooey
by Donald Levit

Do the Germans have a sense of comedy? If so, aside from Doris Dörrie’s sex-identities and -relationships satire Men, that machine-minded funny bone is unexportable, a state secret. And apart from fractured-English Cyndi Lauper-like Nina Hagen, the same goes for their soulless imitation pop music. Combine the two, debatable Continental laughs and rhythms, and you have Soul Kitchen, titled from that inappropriately named greasy spoon in a largely interiors film under leaden Hamburg clouds.

About “audacious ‘Heimat’ (or home) as a place of family and friends,” in a German ‘50s cinema tradition of “village-like community,” Turkish-German director-cowriter Fatih Akin’s ninety-nine minutes is also meant as a hymn to his native metropolis become hip, upscale and bulldozed for gentrification. If that is true, the industrial Elbe River-North Sea port still is not pictured to any advantage at all. Seconds of sterile airport- and business-modern, a dull skyline, an underground park cum prostitute hangout, a bluish disco and views from inside cars, are neither touristy nor aesthetic. What goes on is mainly inside a warehouse fronted by railroad tracks, acquired by Greek-German Zinos Kazantsakis (former restaurant owner Adam Bousdoukos, Fatih’s friend and co-scripter) and DIY dressed up into no-frills Soul Kitchen furnishing.

Abetted by no-nonsense waitress, squatter and drinker Lucia Faust (Anna Bederke) and semi-musician Lutz (Lucas Gregorowicz), the dark stubble-faced restaurateur does the heavy lifting in all senses, in the process throwing out his back. He is hot and heavy for taller, blonde and rich girlfriend Nadine Krüger (Pheline Roggan) and unhappy about her wannabe foreign correspondent move to Shanghai. Stereotype old salt Sokrates (Demir Gökgöl) cannot pay rent owed to Zinos, while steady customers disappear in protest of the temperamental fancy cuisine new chef, Shayn Weiss (Birol Ünel), hired on the spot at Nadine’s disastrous going-away dinner.

Additional complication arrives in gambler brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu), sporting a pawnable crucifix on a daytime parole from jail which can be extended if he finds a job. Zinos provides the requested phantom employment and the first of several loans, even while he is pressured by Tax Officer Mrs. Schuster (Catrin Striebeck), a Health Department inspector (Jan Fedder), and a realtor wheeler-dealer school friend, Thomas Neumann (Wotan Wilke Möhring), who offers to buy the place but plans to demolish it and flip the property.

Business and in-house music boom as locals catch on to Shayn’s nouvelle cuisine. But mooning Zinos heads to lovely physiotherapist Anna Mondstein (Dorka Gryllus) for his herniated disk, so that he can find a restaurant manager and fly to his cooled ladylove in the Far East.

Unfunny pratfalls and sight gags take over -- head bumps lead to heart thumps, a dropped coffin opens and a popped button sails into a lozenge box, an edible aphrodisiac is misused, and a Bone Crusher of a “physio-healer” works wonders with boards and rope. This is comedy, where deserving lovers are united, an unfaithful unworthy one is redeemed, and even prison serves up smiling poetic justice.

Like Brooklyn Williamsburg, Hamburg Wilhelmsburg is fast going to developers. Soul Kitchen would not so much bewail as celebrate what it once was. Not to worry, however: the uniqueness of Dörrie’s and Hagen’s accomplishments is in no danger.

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

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