Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) owns a restaurant called Soul Kitchen, located in an old warehouse in Hamburg. His clientele consists of neighbourhood regulars just looking for nothing more than the fish sticks and frozen pizzas Zinos serves up. But Zinos is beset by a number of events, from his girlfriend Nadine setting out for Shanghai for work, to his brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu, who I saw at the festival a few years back in Reclaim Your Brain) being released from jail on day parole. After his back gives out trying to move a dishwasher, Zinos hires a new chef, Shayn (Birol Unel), who refuses to cook the regular menu and instead produces his own creations that do nothing but drive away the regulars.
When Zinos runs into his old school pal Neumann, Neumann gives him a possible way out by offering to buy the property. But the restaurant soon finds new fans drawn in by Shayn's food, and Zinos must make a decision between joining Nadine and staying with the business, friends, and family that have been the core of his life.
Soul Kitchen is a fun romp with an engaging cast of characters, from Zinos at the heart of the picture, to brother Illias who's a bit of a roue yet still loves his brother dearly, Lucia (Anna Bederke) the sassy, hard-edged waitress, and Shayn the slightly psychotic yet culinary genius of a chef. While the plot is largely predictable, the main characters have a bit of life and depth to them that gives the film a bit more oomph and keeps it fresh. Combined with a groovy soundtrack, Soul Kitchen is an enjoyable way to spend an hour-and-a-half.
Director Fatih Akin and star Adam Bousdoukos were in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:
- Akin said it was difficult to work on a comedy, that drama is easier. He said it was hard especially after the Edge of Heaven when his friend and partner Andreas Thiel died in the last week of shooting of the film. Thiel had always tried to convince Akin to do the script because he loved it. After Thiel's death Akin realized laughing is important.
- The first draft had been written right after Head-On, because they had no money left, and they had hoped to realize it very quickly, because it was set in Hamburg, Bosudoukos could play the main character and had a restaurant a couple of blocks away. But winning the Golden Bear (at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2004) changed everything. He thought about just producing the film, but couldn't bear to give it away, likening it to giving away your child for adoption. Basically took five years to bring it to the screen.
- Someone asked about the repeated use of La Paloma in the movie. Akin said there was probably seven or more versions of the song. Akin said the song is a sad, humble cliche and is like a Hamburg soundtrack. There is a film from the 40's (Große Freiheit Nr. 7) set in Hamburg and St. Pauli, the red light district, that all in Hamburg love. The film had started shooting in Hamburg, but had to move to Prague after the bombing of Hamburg during the war. Hans Albers, the star of the film, did a version of the song that plays in the diner in Soul Kitchen when Nadine and Zinos are talking.
- Birol Unel, who plays the chef Shayn, was the star of Akin's Head-On, which changed his life, and Akin adores Unel and wrote the part specifically for him. It was like a family film for him, using both people he's worked closely with in the past, and some new ones as well.
- Unel can cook a bit, but took coaching from Ali Güngörmüs, chef at Le Canard (where some scenes early in the film were shot).
- Akin chose Shanghai/China as Nadine's destination as Shanghai is one of Hamburg's sister cities, and many young people today are going there to work.
- Akin noted they won a special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival for the film, which he joked made them very happy.
- Akin said the English-speaking audience got *almost* all the jokes in the film. He appreciated that the audience's reaction helped him watch the film again, which by this time he was sick of after having worked so long on it. They thought that 60km outside of Hamburg no one would laugh at the film, but was pleased by the response it is getting.
Slight spoliers below:
- Akin was asked if he had to change the screenplay after the actress who plays Nadine's grandmother died in real life (Monica Bleibtreu, mother of co-star Moritz Bleibtreu), but Akin said that the character's death had originally been in the script.