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Review: ‘Soul Kitchen’

Cooking Up a Racial Melting Pot

Above: The regulars of "Soul Kitchen"

German-Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin lightens his tone for “Soul Kitchen” (opened September 17 at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas).

Fatih Akin’s film all deal to some degree with the increased ethnic diversity, most frequently the intermingling of Turkish and German cultures. But in earlier films like his 2003 feature “Head-On” (about a marriage of convenience), his 2005 documentary “Crossing The Bridge” (about Istanbul's diverse music scene), or his 2007 feature “Edge of Heaven” (about a man searching for his friend’s daughter), the approach has been more dramatic. For his latest film, “Soul Kitchen,” Akin tries for a more comedic tone but one definitely rooted in the real world.

Soul Kitchen is a restaurant in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg. It’s a bit of a dive where everything that’s served seems to be prepped in the deep fryer of Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos). But his regular customers seem happy with the menu of frozen pizza, fish burgers, and macaroni and cheese. Plus ZInos always plays great music in the German-Greek throws into his deep fryer, not to mention the great music in the old warehouse he shares with a boat builder named Sokrates (Demir Gökgöl).

The restaurant keeps Zinos busy and that causes problems with his girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) who’s off to Shanghai for work. At her farewell party, Zinos meets eccentric chef Shayn (Birol Ünel) who gets fired for refusing to make a warm gazpacho. On exiting the restaurant after being let go, Shayn exclaims: “You’re selling what can’t be sold: love, sex and the soul!” This impresses Zinos who ends up hiring the unemployed chef. Only problem is his gourmet food doesn’t please Zinos’ regulars who want their deep fried greasy menu back.

“Soul Kitchen” is an enjoyable human comedy. It’s not the stuff of TV sitcoms but rather finds its humor in the quirky personalities of the characters and in the imperfections of human life. It looks not only to an intermingling of cultures but also to the gentrification of old neighborhoods into swankier new ones. The film doesn’t revel in its food in the same way that “Mostly Martha” did and it’s not quite the seductive means of transformation found in the recent “I am Love.” It’s something messier here, something that represents the chaos of the everyday; it's kind of a working class version of those food porn films as Zinos quickly prepares food in his deep fryer for his regulars.

Akin is a compassionate director who gets good performances from his actors. He has a nice eye for character detail and for the imperfections of life. Plus, you gotta like a film that uses the line “Culinary racists” and has a cameo by Udo Kier.

“Soul Kitchen” is unrated and in German and Greek with English subtitles.

Companion viewing: “Mostly Martha,” “Edge of Heaven,” "Babette's Feast"

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