Thursday, January 6, 2011

Soul Kitchen

The dark depths of winter—the soul needs this kind of retreat. Yes, I was thumbing through Vincent Descombes’s cheerfully scornful critique of Sartre’s empty-headed gloss on dialectic, and … but wait! It’s dark outside, and maybe dark inside, too. But isn’t the time exactly right for a film like Soul Kitchen?!

Maybe you haven’t heard of it. It’s a Turkish-German comedy by director Fatih Akin, better known for dramas like The Edge of Heaven (2007). Soul Kitchen has the same cross-cultural background—a young Greek named Zinos who’s trying to run a restaurant in an abandoned warehouse in Hamburg.

The plot elements are the stuff of cliché. Zino’s brother, recently paroled from prison, wants a job (or better yet, a wad of cash.) The chef was fired from his previous position because he wouldn’t heat up the gazpacho—it’s not traditional.

Zino’s gorgeous girlfriend, a journalist, is leaving for a primo assignment in Shanghai. He meets up, by chance, with an erstwhile high-school buddy, a total fascist Arian who really only wants to buy his building (please forgive the racial slur). Another buddy wants to use the building for band practice. Zino throws out his back moving an antediluvian automatic dishwasher (Greek) into the restaurant kitchen, and his now-remote girlfriend lines him up, via Skype, with a comely Asian masseuse.

Meanwhile, his most reliable waitress, a punk artist just trying to make ends meet, falls in love with his brother. Throw in a few health inspectors, income tax investigators, apartment fires, and wealthy aunts, and you have the material for several screwball comedies. And did I mention the Brazilian tree-bark aphrodisiac in the dessert?

Be forewarned that the “foodie” elements of Soul Kitchen wouldn’t carry the film on their own. And it doesn’t have the droll genius of an early Wenders film, or that manic humor that fuses a film into a totally exhilarating experience, the way that What Means Motley? (or His Girl Friday) does. But what it lacks in comic touch, Soul Kitchen makes up for with … music.

Rap, disco, reggae, bangra—in German, and Greek! Songs like “Soundhaudegen” by Silly Walks Movement, “Fragkosriani” by the Greek ska band Locomondo, followed by American stuff by Dyke and the Blazers and Zapp and Roger. Then we have Broke But Busy, Turtle Bay Country Club. I’d never heard of any of them. In fact, the only song on the soundtrack that I recognized was “The Creator Has a Master Plan” by Pharaoh Sanders. It’s a good piece, but, watching the credits after the film, I noticed it was misattributed to Louis Armstrong!

Happy January!

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