Soul Kitchen (2009)

Shayn: "Voyager hasn't reached its target yet. It is not over."
By Fatih Akin
With Adam Bousdoukos, Moritz Bleibtreu, Pheline Roggan 

Soul Kitchen is an extremely satisfying film to see. It's the kind of film where the lines between hero and villain are righteously blurred, though of course that isn't to say it doesn't have an antagonist. It's a karmic film if you will -- a film that reassures the viewers of a sense of justice in the world -- albeit in the most slapdash and chaotic way possible. I loved it.

The film begins with Zinos, a man in his twenties recklessly putting together a greasy fast food dinner. We then realize he is the owner and chef of a small diner in Hamburg called "Soul Kitchen" which proudly caters to what is considered the working class and is very comfortable in its niche. He also rents out space to an aged boat captain, Sokrates, who can never afford to pay rent and who silently enjoys beer after beer in his diner.

After his shift, he joins his girlfriend and family at an upscale restaurant where one of the chefs loses his temper when asked to heat a gazpacho by a customer (insisting that gazpacho is eaten cold and thus out of an integrity to the food he cannot heat it) he slams a knife into a table in rage. He is promptly fired but Zinos, watching him, feels a sense of solidarity with the chef whose name he learns is Shayn when he offers him a job at Soul Kitchen. Thus begins the classic clash between a fast food diner and an upscale restaurant as Zinos and Shayn butt heads about what the correct method of serving food is.

Added to this stew is Zinos' criminal brother, on parole in jail on the condition that he gets a job. Zinos' agrees to "pretend" to hire him, but when a waitress in the diner draws his attention, the brother begins to spend more and more time there, and eventually his criminal ways get entangled with the diner.

What was most enjoyable about this film was its depiction of a group of lost souls in their twenties. They weren't drug ridden, they could enjoy a night or two of getting wasted, but were mainly working hard to keep afloat, pay the rent, and be a part of society that clearly can't endure people who refuse to color between the lines. The diner itself is a character, and like the rest of the characters, transforms over the course of the film. I think one of the most important moments in the film was the way each character had to endure loss -- for Zinos, arguably the protagonist, he loses his health, his girlfriend, and even his diner and livelihood is in danger -- before they can somehow deserve what they do have and regain what they lost.

I enjoyed the snappy dialogue, and in more than one occasion I found myself laughing out loud. Suffice to say the comedic memento was perfectly timed. A lot in the film relied on coincidence and chance, but also on individuality and the mercurial nature of life. It seemed to stress a sort of zen attitude, of not resisting change but trying nevertheless to eke a sustainable way through the change to a place you want. I would even dare call this film magical realism, as many of its events are not strictly plausible, but also dirty realism, as a strong sense of the dirt and muck of life is conveyed--nothing is stylized or romanticized, including but not limited to their romantic and sexual relations. Or perhaps the film is paying homage to Greece and Greek philosophy--in particular perhaps Aristotle's conception of a perfect tragedy--as Zinos and his brother are both Greek-German.

But that's not what keeps a viewer involved--what does is the endearing charisma of the characters, and their ability to make you feel that their life matters.

I liked: The dialogue, the food scenes, the characters, their warmth, and the plot.

I disliked: There were moments that were included for cheap humor. Not many, but certainly noticeable.

A quirky and enjoyable coming-of-age film, with good laughs and warm characters and delicious food. I do recommend!


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