In Soul Kitchen the acclaimed Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin once again explores Germany’s multicultural society but this time with comedy and light drama rather than the more heavy approach Akin is better known for in films such as The Edge of Heaven and Head-On. The action is centred in a modest restaurant located in an old industrial area of Hamburg that is becoming increasingly fashionable. The restaurant is owned by Greek-German Zinos Kazantsakis who transforms it into the hip place to be. To do this he is helped by a volatile gourmet chef and his brother who is on special leave from his prison sentence.
The grungy realism at the core of the film is compromised when the film indulges in tired clichés such as “it all comes together” montages, contrived plot developments and the inclusion of a conniving property developer as a stereotypical villain (although it is amusing to note that even Germans cast Aryan-looking blond Germans as their villains). Soul Kitchen is mostly a comedy/drama but at times suddenly lurches into slapstick, moments of really broad comedy (a scene where everybody at a party eats a powerful aphrodisiac is particularly painful) and other moments where the humour is just cruel. None of these styles of comedy are bad in their own right and many of them can be successfully integrated but in Soul Kitchen there are just too many gags that uncomfortably feel out of character with the rest of the film.
All these faults are a shame because there is also a lot to like about Soul Kitchen. Akin really does create a wonderful sense of place with the scenes set within Zinos’s restaurant and its industrial surroundings. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic and often lifts otherwise unremarkable scenes into moments of real joy. As Zinos Adam Bousdoukos (who also appeared in Head-On) is tremendously likeable and Birol Ünel (also from Head-On) as the volatile and proud chef Shayn Weiss is a lot of fun too, although underused, and as Illias, Zinos’s difficult brother, Moritz Bleibtreu (The Baader Meinhof Complex, Das Experiment, Run Lola Run) once again demonstrates why he is one of Germany’s most popular actors. Soul Kitchen may ultimately be a little unfulfilling, inconsistent and predictable but the moments and aspects that do work overall make it a film worth experiencing.