Young restaurant owner Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) is down on his luck. His girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) has moved to Shanghai, his Soul Kitchen customers are boycotting the new gourmet chef, and he’s having back trouble. Things start looking up when the hip crowd embraces his revamped culinary concept, but that doesn’t mend Zinos’s broken heart. He decides to fly to China for Nadine, leaving the restaurant in the hands of his unreliable ex-con brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu). Both decisions turn out disasterous: Illias gambles away the restaurant to a shady real estate agent and Nadine has found a new lover. But brothers Zinos and Illias might still have one last chance to get Soul Kitchen back if they can stop arguing and work together as a team.

A soul kind of feeling.

Bad luck, good food and great music are the driving forces of German director Fatih Akin’s screwball comedy of errors, Soul Kitchen.

The perennial film festival favourite lightens up with this film, after mining the depths of the human condition in his most recent cinematic excursions, The Edge of Heaven and Head On. Soul Kitchen is very much in keeping with the tones of his earlier works, like the cross-continental romantic comedy, In July (Im Juli).

Bloodlines are a mainstay of Akin’s work, albeit usually in searing explorations of the identity crises of cross-cultural youth. This time around he tests the consistency of the plasma shared by Greco-German siblings Zinos and Illias (lookalikes and Akim regulars Adam Bousdoukos and Moritz Bliebtrau), within the metaphorical petri dish of the former’s diner – the Soul Kitchen – a greasy spoon joint in an industrialised section of Hamburg.

Zinos probably has some idea of what he’s in for when his perennial gaolbird brother fronts up for work at the diner as a front for a penal system scam. This is clearly not the first time the baggy-suited Illias has hit his brother up for a favour.

When Zinos' well-off girlfriend decamps to China and things go progressively pear-shaped. Their relationship starts to flatline over Skype, especially when Zinos’ impromptu lower back spasms kill the mood for long-distance love. Further distractions ensue when the tax office, the health inspectors, and a sleazy land developer pose a triple threat to his livelihood.

Suffice it to say, all of this madness results in fate conspiring to cleanse the chakra of the Soul Kitchen.

Akin keeps the tone breezy with a likeable cast of characters, who all manage to resonate beyond their paper-thin plot functions. He invests sufficient time in their relationships to overcome the obvious conclusions of a plot point that involves signing one’s title deeds over to a gambling addict/thief on day release. Watching the screws tighten around the hapless Zinos is equal parts excruciating and exhilarating.

Fatih Akin shows his fun side in Soul Kitchen
The normally serious director returned to his Hamburg roots for his lightest film so far.
Soul Kitchen: Fatih Akin interview
Fatih Akin speaks to SBS about his new award-winning film, Soul Kitchen.

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1 hour 39 min
In Cinemas 06 May 2010,