Soul Kitchen is a blend of German/Turkish/American sensibilities, a screwball farce that occasionally knocks you mildly off balance. Writer-director Fatih Akın is a wild, youngish filmmaker prone to shifts in tone; in Head-On, he fashioned something strangely unstable and lively out of the spare parts of the traditional romantic comedy. Soul Kitchen is a more benign tour of the director’s preoccupations with cultural identity and loneliness, but it has energy and texture; Akin imbues silly, consciously contrived situations with emotional surprise.
Zinos (co-writer Adam Bousdoukos) is the owner of Soul Kitchen, a greasy spoon diner in Hamburg that wouldn’t be out of place in an anonymous American city; it’s a ramshackle renovated warehouse catering to a small band of patrons with undiscerning preferences in their generic fried food. Zinos is a traditional character stuck in an underwhelming life that’s in need of a shakeup that soon arrives in the guise of a number of traditionally motley oddballs. Zinos’s girlfriend moves to Shanghai to pursue work, his brother (Moritz Bleibtreu) is released from prison, an old school friend (Wotan Wilke Möhring) suspiciously reintroduces himself, and a brilliant but temperamental cook (the terrific Birol Ünel) shows up on the restaurant’s doorstep expecting work. Soon Soul Kitchen has undergone a transformation from depressing almost-hobby to a boisterously chaotic—and profitable—melting pot.
Akin’s prior films found characters in search of often unlikely homes they could claim for themselves. Soul Kitchen similarly follows a crew going to lengths to preserve something they’ve found that nourishes them after years of resignation and compromise—and it’s this underlying fear that prevents it from growing too cute. Akin frequently pushes jokes beyond the surface into expressions of pain or insecurity or heartbreak or exhilaration and reverie. Most mainstream comedies reduce human experience to caricature, but events in this film count, and every calamity that befalls these characters is a projection of their demons. Akin understands, as he did in both Head-On and The Edge of Heaven, that pleasure means more if the pain is afforded equal billing. Soul Kitchen is formula, and it’s often slight in comparison to Akin’s prior films, but it’s affectionate formula with an occasionally welcome curve ball.
The image maintains the brightness and slight overexposure that highlights the grit of the Hamburg streets and warehouses. The sound mix is allowed to show off a little more in order to preserve the surrounding immersion of the frequent bursts of pop music, partying, and celebration. A sound presentation of a film that's supposed to be a little rough and unruly anyway.
An unusually warm, laidback making-of featurette that elaborates on Fatih Akın and Adam Bousdoukos's personal friendship and their collaboration on the film. Plus the obligatory trailer.
The DVD isn't anything special, but Soul Kitchen should be seen anyway.