Fatih Akın is a filmmaker of irrepressible energy. His 2004 film Head-On began with a car crash and used it as a metaphor for a volatile marriage, the camera spinning and swirling chasing after the characters; his 2007 film The Edge of Heaven followed Turkish and German characters in multiple countries, always just missing each other, often with tragic consequences. His movies showcase how the world is shrinking, the characters united more by a common age and common music and fashion tastes than by nationality. The people tend to be in their late 20s and early 30s, and part of a bohemian middle class where at any given moment you feel either saved or fucked.
Zinos Kazantzakis (Adam Bousdoukos), a Greek immigrant in Hamburg, fits that bill. The main character of Akin’s new film, Soul Kitchen, is the floppy-haired, pudgy-faced, and wide-eyed proprietor of an upstart wood-tabled restaurant (“You know, after soul food”), who’s just said goodbye to his Shanghai-bound girlfriend at the airport with a roping tango of a kiss. He runs into problems running the restaurant, mainly with a cast of entirely stock, utterly enjoyable personalities: the crazed gourmet chef (Birol Ünel) who insists on skinning the fish sticks and hurls a knife at the wall when dissatisfied; the ne’er-do-well brother (Moritz Bliebtrau), just out of jail, whose work at the restaurant teaches him to grow up; the lecherous, nefarious real-estate developer (Wotan Wilke Möhring), shouting so garrulously as to seem cut from a Coen brothers’ movie, who tries to screw the tax office in every way possible.
Soul Kitchen is very funny, with much of its crude comedy stemming from watching hangdog Zinos’s humiliations, whether it’s an erection arising at a massage parlor or its owner lurching forward at a funeral, wailing and flailing so as to knock over the coffin. The best running gag involves his constant back pains; the second best involves the eruptions of his irritating cellphone ringtone, Zapp and Roger’s “I Want to Be Your Man.”
The movie’s utterly predictable, crassly formulaic ingredients (there’s even an Udo Kier cameo) go down easier with a pumping, eclectic soundtrack that ranges between Artie Shaw, Locomondo, and Broke But Busy, and scenes moving so fluidly as to seem choreographed to their music. The characters shout “Schizer” throughout, almost as rhythmic refrain. The women exist to support the men; the movie doesn’t have much to say politically, and what it does say isn’t interesting. But Soul Kitchen is still a lot of fun.
Soul Kitchen played on April 22, 26, and 29 as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. For more information click here.