In Hamburg, young low-budget restaurant owner Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) is down on his luck. His girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) is moving to Shanghai, his Soul Kitchen customers are boycotting the new gourmet chef, Shayn (Birol Ünel) and he's having back trouble. Things start looking up when the hip crowd embraces his revamped culinary concept, but that doesn't mend Zinos's broken heart. He packs his bags for China and Nadine, leaving the restaurant in the hands of his unreliable petty crim brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu). Both decisions turn out to be disastrous: Illias gambles away the restaurant to shady real estate agent Thomas Neuman (Woltan Wilke Möhring) and Nadine has found a new lover.
Review by Louise Keller:
What goes around comes around in this unpredictable, likeable tale about love, money and a restaurant with soul. There's a nice energy about the film that won the Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2009 and filmmaker Fatih Akin introduces us to a bunch of diverse and interesting characters, who individually and together draw us in.
There's the hard working restaurant owner, his mixed-up wealthy girlfriend, a physio with liquid-amber eyes, the rascally paroled brother, a waitress who's into music, shots and romance, an old man with a boat, a temperamental chef who calls his diners culinary racists and a scheming real estate developer who likes a beer to end the day. Akin whets our appetite when he gives us a little glimpse into each of the characters' lives. There's drama, comedy, romance, music and food; not necessarily in that order. Central to the characters is the restaurant called Soul Kitchen which goes through various incarnations: fish 'n chips diner, gourmet restaurant, music rehearsal space, disco eatery and intimate romantic restaurant.
Adam Bousdoukos and Moritz Bleibtreu are both terrific as Zinos and Illias, the Greek brothers who are poles apart but know that blood is thicker than water. I wonder which Chef Birol Ünel researched in order to play the hot-headed Chef who won't serve gaspacho hot, even if his customer demands it. The girls are good too: Pheline Roggan as the model-esque spoilt-brad blonde Nadine and Anna Bederke as the feisty Lucia, whose highly developed sense of romance allows her to perceive the ex-con as her Count of Monte Cristo. I wanted to know the back story of every single character and watch for the scene involving an aggressive female tax inspector whose demeanour changes when she tastes a dessert laced with an aphrodisiac. Just 'desserts' ensues.
There's a little dip in the story line and the tone of the farcical funeral scene is all wrong before the final burst that leads us into the grand finale in which the story threads mesh together to find satisfactory, rather than dazzling resolutions.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Stories set in restaurant kitchens belong in a sub genre of their own, and they are usually comedic and usually romantic. Cooking is exciting, dramatic fun and good food is sexy. Cooks are excitable and their desirable dishes are mouthwatering. But these films combine the toughest tests for filmmakers: good comedy driven by strong, drama-based stories. Fatih Akin has excelled at drama (eg Head-On and Edge of Heaven) but here his grip is loose and the material fails to rise soufflé-like, despite some exceptional talents on both sides of the camera.
The bottom line is always the script, and writer and co-star Adam Bousdoukos gets close - but no cigar. Undisciplined but not wild enough to be engagingly rumbustious (like, say an Emir Kusturica film), it's a work in progress, let's say.
There is a stodgy tone that never lifts even when we're having fun in bars, and while one could hold Akin responsible for this, it's actually the script. The story is too thin and the characters underdeveloped for us to invest heavily in them, and proceedings slip into comedic mode just when it needs to be stringently dramatic for the comedy to work.
But there are plenty of good things, too, and the downbeat Hamburg railyard setting of the Soul Kitchen restaurant is one: it's a uniquely drab, desultory place surrounded by heavy industry. The derelict building faces giant smoke stacks and sits by a railway line. Inside, it's bohemian and friendly.
Moritz Bleibtreu is fine as Illias the petty crim, work resistant brother and Adam Bousdoukos is also effective as the put upon young restaurateur trying to hold together a failing business and a failing relationship. I especially like Woltan Wilke Möhring's gritty performance as the scheming real estate shark and Anna Bederke as Lucia the waitress whose initial distaste for Illias turns to smoochy romance.
The last third of the film untangles messily as we lose contact with both Illias and chef Shayn - the excellent Birol Ünel in a wasted role probably driven by the happy working relationship with the director in previous films.
It's not complete (the ending is rather weak) nor compelling, but it's still likeable enough as light entertainment.
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SOUL KITCHEN (MA)
CAST: Adam Bousdoukos, Moritz Bleibtreu, Birol Ünel, Pheline Roggan, Lukas Gregorowicz, Dorka Gryllus, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Demir Gokgol, Monica Bleibtreu, Marc Hosemann, Udo Kier
PRODUCER: Fatih Akin, Ann-Kristin Homann
DIRECTOR: Fatih Akin
SCRIPT: Adam Bousdoukos
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rainer Klausmann
EDITOR: Andrew Bird
MUSIC: Klaus Maeck, Pia Hoffmann (music supervisors)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tamo Kunz
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 6, 2010