Corazón International

Soul Kitchen

Soul Kitchen

2.0 out of 52.0 out of 52.0 out of 52.0 out of 5 2.0

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After the we-are-the-world solemnity of Edge of Heaven, it’s something of a relief to see Fatih Akın positing good grub and funky tunes rather than miserabilist diagrams as communal unifiers. In the affable, exhausting Soul Kitchen, the German-Turkish filmmaker’s by-now familiar melting pot of multiethnic New Europe textures becomes a cauldron of hothouse appetites and scruffy slapstick. The title refers to the dilapidated Hamburg eatery run by Zinos (the Jim Morrisonesque Adam Bousdoukos, who also co-wrote the screenplay), a frazzled German-Greek bruiser whose dwindling working-class clientele and departing girlfriend (Pheline Roggan) are just the tip of an iceberg of aggravations. There’s also a new cook (Birol Ünel) with temperament issues (“Culinary racists!” he thunders at the customers who dare ask him to microwave a bowl of gazpacho), a former colleague turned corporate swine (Wotan Wike Möhring) who’s determined to take over the property, a floundering rock band, untimely visits from tax collectors and health department officers, and a pesky herniated disc. Topping Zinos’s laundry list of headaches is his brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu), a burglar out on partial parole who sets up camp in the restaurant and, in a flash of law-stretching inspiration, comes up with a plan to save it.

As if to distance itself from the tastefulness of such food-porn staples as Like Water for Chocolate and Mostly Martha, Soul Kitchen is shot, edited, and acted like a busy day at the factory. Comic chaos is the rule, the louder the better: Nobody takes a drink without smashing their glasses on the counter, no boner joke escapes underlining, Akin’s camera-in-heat keeps slamming, rushing to cram in one more canted angle, one more musical cue, one more smackdown between squabbling characters. (It’s a measure of the movie’s wearing screwball hustling that, by comparison, a cameo by vintage wacko Udo Kier comes off like an oasis of quietude.)

The high-decibel exoticism is reminiscent of the punk-besotted loners of the director’s breakout hit Head-On, and, as in that film, the self-conscious frenzies of the plot are often redeemed by Akin’s generosity toward everybody on screen. It’s hard to hate a film so inclusive of its characters’ emotional and sensory compasses, but even harder to overlook its unexpectedly trite ear for music and willingness to trade cultural insight for obvious, crowd-pleasing gags. The ultimate feeling is of Akin as a frantic chef scrambling to spike a thin soup, throwing in spices and stirring like a madman. There’s plenty of kitchen, but little soul.

IFC Films
99 min
Fatih Akın
Fatih Akın, Adam Bousdoukos
Adam Bousdoukos, Moritz Bleibtreu, Birol Ünel, Anna Bederke, Pheline Roggan, Lukas Gregorowicz, Dorka Gryllus, Wotan Wike Möhring, Demir Gökgöl, Monica Bleibtreu, Udo Kier