If you’ve seen Director Fatih Akin’s earlier works, you know he’s got serious talent. Brooding works like The Edge of Heaven and Head-On have won him accolades. In Soul Kitchen he serves up salad, instead of steak. Despite being light, episodic and a bit sloppy, you can’t help being charmed.
Working out of a converted warehouse, Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) serves up food in his Soul Kitchen diner. Gourmet it’s not, cooking methods usually involve a deep fryer. It’s not a successful business but he’s passionate about it. When his girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) relocates to Shanghai for work, he can’t stand being apart, but can’t leave the diner without a manager.
His fortunes change when he meets disgruntled top chef Shayn (another great performance by Birol Ünel, star of Akin’s Head-On). He joins Zinos and takes the Soul Kitchen to new heights. Things are looking good until his compulsive gambler brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu) gets day parole and looks to Zinos for help. Like most family dynamics, it gets complicated quickly.
Combining the new elements with his faithful bartender/house musician Lutz (Lukas Gregorowicz) and sultry artist/waitress Nadine (Pheline Roggan), the Soul Kitchen sees a rebirth. The patrons change from staid industrial workers to hip music lovers. Bringing an influx of money Zinos has never seen before. Perhaps his reunion with his girlfriend may still happen.
The characters are fun and engaging with good performances put in by all. Even small characters like Sokrates (looks like Captain Highliner) are integral to the story. Zinos and his brother’s character are especially lovable and believable. Monica Bleibtreu who played Nadine’s Grandmother is the mother of Moritz Bleibtreu (Illias). Her role was small but emphatic. Sadly Soul Kitchen is one of her last few roles, as she passed away in 2009.
The story is sprawling and chaotic. There are revenue collectors, health inspectors, greedy real estate developers, internet sex, 2 Alarm Fires, dodgy alternative medical techniques, and even an orgy. There’s also a burgeoning romance with Anna (Dorka Gryllus) his physiotherapist. In many ways it resembles a farcical American Hollywood movie like The Hangover (in scope but not plot), fortunately it has European restraint.
If this film was made by someone less capable than Akin, the results may have been tragic. Instead there’s great exuberance and positivity about this film. It’s buoyed by a great soundtrack, laden with American soul and R&B standards. As Zinos would say, “Yea Man!”