Big nacht

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Robert B. Ker For The New Mex­i­can

Soul Kitchen, com­edy, not rated, in Ger­man and Greek with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles Di­rec­tor Fatih Akin, born in Ger­many to Turk­ish par­ents, ex­pe­ri­enced a me­te­oric rise on the world-cin­ema stage mainly be­cause of his last two fea­ture films: 2004’s Head-On and 2007’s The Edge of Heaven. The for­mer is har­row­ing and dif­fi­cult; the lat­ter, sprawl­ing and in­ven­tive. Both films have some­thing to say. For his fol­low-up, Soul Kitchen, Akin takes a break from con­vey­ing im­por­tant mes­sages and sim­ply has a bite to eat.

In Amer­ica’s for­eign-film mar­ket, res­tau­rant-based come­dies are like Adam San­dler films: they are the eas­i­est pos­si­ble sell. You take a car­toon­ishly ex­ag­ger­ated hero (here, the shaggy Adam Bous­doukos as Zi­nos Kazantsakis, owner of dine-and-dance joint Soul Kitchen) and set him against a car­toon­ishly ex­ag­ger­ated vil­lain (Wotan Wilke Möhring as hiss-wor­thy real-es­tate de­vel­oper Thomas Neu­mann). Toss in an ec­cen­tric sup­port­ing cast, in­clude a heavy help­ing of close-up shots of food prepa­ra­tion, stir in a lively sound­track, add a dash of sex, and voilà! You have the mak­ings of a for­eign-film hit.

But my aim is not to be cyn­i­cal. The death rat­tle is sound­ing on the Amer­i­can mar­ket for movies with pesky lit­tle words on the bot­tom of the screen, and one learns to ap­pre­ci­ate for­eign-film suc­cess wher­ever it may be found. Soul Kitchen, while delv­ing into many clichés and an ex­ten­sive sup­ply of cheap gags, still man­ages to win you

over. It’s a re­minder that just be­cause a genre’s con­ven­tions are well worn doesn’t mean there isn’t en­ter­tain­ment value to be found in them. And just be­cause a film isn’t chal­leng­ing doesn’t mean it isn’t per­sonal.

Con­sider Soul Kitchen’s ge­n­e­sis: Akin and Bous­doukos have been close friends since child­hood, and they col­lab­o­rated on the screen­play as a ve­hi­cle to con­vey some of Bous­doukos’ ad­ven­tures in the res­tau­rant busi­ness. The movie has the warm feel of friends get­ting to­gether for a night of din­ner and mu­sic, danc­ing and drinks, jokes and sto­ries. It’s play­ful in the right places, and down­plays the painful mo­ments for laughs.

Bous­doukos serves as a charis­matic pro­tag­o­nist. His Kazantsakis is a kind man who con­stantly looks out for his loved ones dur­ing dif­fi­cult times. Whether it’s be­cause Bous­doukos over­acts or be­cause Kazantsakis is over­drawn, the char­ac­ter has a short fuse — he’s im­pul­sive, and dis­agree­ments eas­ily turn to ran­dom shout­ing matches. Re­fer back to the San­dler com­par­i­son if you wish, but Kazantsakis is the rare hero who is rarely pas­sive but al­ways vul­ner­a­ble. He lurches through the film with a bad back, hunched over and grit­ting his teeth as his life crum­bles around him.

His laun­dry list of prob­lems seems to grow with each pass­ing minute. His lover Na­dine (Phe­line Rog­gan) leaves for China, where her mis­sives soon seem sus­pi­cious. His brother Il­lias (Moritz Bleib­treu), a re­formed thief with a prison record, needs help get­ting on his feet and chang­ing his be­hav­ior, and he faces a re­lapse at ev­ery turn. The res­tau­rant is strug­gling. The new chef (Birol Ünel) is a tyrant. The health in­spec­tors and tax of­fi­cers are knock­ing at his door. And pop­ping up from time to time is Neu­mann (say the name like Jerry Se­in­feld does: Hello … New­man!) with of­fers to buy the place out from un­der him.

You can guess how things play out. Events grow darker and more des­per­ate for Kazantsakis and his friends and fam­ily, un­til it seems that there is no way things could pos­si­bly turn out well. And then some last-ditch Hail Mary an­tics start build­ing the mo­men­tum to­ward re­demp­tion, come­up­pance, and a happy end­ing with a neat bow tied on top. The cast is strong

Hugs and misses: Phe­line Rog­gan and Adam Bous­doukos

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