‘Soul Kitchen’ serves a nice slice of German life

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Monday, September 13, 2010 1:46pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The menu at Soul Kitchen, a Hamburg greasy-spoon diner that feels like a warehouse because it is a warehouse, is unapologetically filled with fish sticks and spaghetti. Assembly-line food for customers who have long since stopped caring about what they eat.

All that will change during the course of “Soul Kitchen,” a joyous new movie by the German director Fatih Akin (whose previous films included the superb, but very serious, “Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven”). This is the kind of thing that gives a good name to the term, “feel-good movie.”

“Soul Kitchen” is as cheerful and shaggy as its hero, Zinos Kazansakis (played by Adam Bousdoukos, who co-wrote the script and who really ran a restaurant like this in Hamburg). Bousdoukos has an open, trusting, slightly dopey face, crowned by a great circa-1974 hairstyle — he’s one of those actors who makes you chuckle whenever he walks on screen.

Or in this case, limps. In short order, Zinos has suffered a back injury, hired a new chef (Birol Unel, from “Head-On”) and given his jailbird brother a non-job at the Soul Kitchen. (The brother is played by Moritz Bleibtreu, from “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” a big star in Germany on a sort of vacation here.) Creditors are asking questions, the brother is working some sort of illegal side operation and the new chef’s menu has the regular customers up in arms.

There are other subplots, plus a fun soundtrack. Akin puts everything in its place — despite the anything-goes spirit, this is a carefully assembled bit of fun — and the film speeds along at just the right pace, pausing long enough so we can appreciate the characters but not wearing out any jokes.

Akin uncorks those jokes in good-hearted fashion, yet the movie is grounded in the grittier side of Hamburg. That’s one reason the concoction works: The worn-at-the-elbows surroundings keep the storyline honest.

In the latter stages, some of the gags get a little familiar — European movies about wacky restaurants are practically a genre unto themselves these days, and there are only so many variations you can get on the menu. But by that time, this film had completely won me over. I never doubted that its zany complications were at the service of something genuine.

Even the end credits are great. Seriously — stick around for at least part of the colorfully designed credits, which catch just the right kicky spirit of the movie itself.

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