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Soul Kitchen

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Soul Kitchen

Directed by Fatih Akin

When this delightful German comedy opened locally last October, it was added on a Monday and didn’t give us much time to get a review into the paper. It left almost just as abruptly—which was frustrating, because Soul Kitchen is the sort of broad but playful foreign flick that’s accessible enough for people who typically sneer at art-house fare and has enough brain cells to amuse cineastes who wouldn’t get near this sort of thing if it was starring Adam Sandler. Zinos (the moppy-headed Adam Bousdoukos) is a young Greek-German who is trying to make his warehouse-based restaurant in Hamburg fly, but it isn’t easy. His girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) is moving to China for a job. His brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu) had a thing for crime and is just getting out of prison. And an old friend is trying to convince Zino to sell his warehouse space to some developers to make some cash.

Sure, it’s a pretty typical underdog-overcoming-adversity dilemma, but Bousdoukos’ Zinos makes this one sing. He’s a great shaggy dog, and he thinks he might have found his restaurant’s savior in chef Shayn (the scene-stealing Birol Ünel), a sometimes hot-tempered kitchen auteur who’s as likely to berate the customer as he is to whip up something as visually dazzling as it is heaven in the mouth. With all these characters set, Soul Kitchen—the name of the movie and the restaurant—winningly moves into madcap screwball antics.

Yes, you’ve seen this before, but it’s done here with such a playful spirit and Teflon soundtrack—classic 1970s soul and funk—that you don’t really care. It’s directed by Fatih Akin, that heady German-Turk director of such serious and powerful fare as 2004’s Head-On and 2007’s The Edge of Heaven. The fragility of human relationships is at the core of those movies, anchored by a superb cast. Both are present in Soul, only Akin is taking a more light and airy approach.

As a filmgoer, experiencing such a change of pace from a director can be refreshing and sometimes even thrilling. Akin’s sure-handed understanding of ethnic groups in Germany is still on full display, as is his deft pace and orchestration of otherwise mundane conversations. With Soul Kitchen he’s merely trying—and succeeding—to be funny instead of probing. It makes you wish directors like Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, or Christopher Nolan might try putting their exceptional filmmaking skill to something a little different from their norm just to see what came of it.

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