Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SOUL KITCHEN, from Fatih Akin & Adam Bousdoukos, proves anarchic, feel-good fun -- plus a very short Q&A with filmmaker

Anarchy runs rampant throughout SOUL KITCHEN, the new film from German/
Turkish writer/director Fatih Akin, but fortunately, since this is Mr. Akins's first comedy in a long while (rent In July, if you want another example of the filmmaker in a lighter mood), the anarchy is somehow productive and fun. Akin’s lead character Zinos (played by Adam Bousdoukos) is the young owner of (and cook at) a restaurant called, yes, Soul Kitchen, that serves up greasy-but-faithful grub to an equally faithful clientele. He’s got a gorgeous girlfriend, Nadine (Pheline Roggan: the blond in the poster, above), who’s about to leave for China on business, with whom he fights and then fucks as though each time were the first and most fabulous (Nadine’s response to one of these sessions is particularly funny).  Also in tow are a faithful barmaid, who, on the strength of the rich performance by Anna Bederke (shown three photos down), turns a subsidiary character into someone absolutely central, and a brother Illias (the great Moritz Bleibtreu) halfway out of prison (he returns there each night) and still addicted to gambling.

In the midst of all this, a new chef enters Zinos’ life, changing Soul Kitchen’s menu from greasy to gourmet, and what had seemed previously simply crazy now goes into overdrive. Mr. Akin (shown in action at right) has never been a subtle filmmaker: Energy and event are vital in all of his work, whether dramatic or humorous. Yet he manages to rein in his lesser impulses, while allowing the life force to explode, sometime disastrously for certain characters (in his dramas), sometimes with glee and a wild delight, as here. He drags his leading man through all kinds of horror -- from a back out-of-whack to major tax problems to a beating at the hands of thugs -- and still keeps us enjoying the pain.

This is due in large part of the performance of his leading man, Adam Bousdoukos (shown above), who also co-wrote the script (which is said to be based a good deal upon his own life: He was a Hamburg restaurant owner for nearly a decade). Zinos/Adam is a genuine force of nature. So full of energy, sexuality and (most important) the kind of active/positive personality that barrels through life, he’s simply unstoppable. To find a similar performance on this side of the Atlantic, you’d have to look to some of America’s great female performers -- Bette Midler or Renée Zellweger, to name a couple. This is not to say that Bousdoukos comes off in any sense as feminine. Nah: he’s a guy all the way. We don’t seem to have male actors with this much crazy flair for life, love and work. Our crazy guys – Christopher Walken and the late Dennis Hopper, for instance -- are/were a little too scary to be crazy-guy role models. Zinos is not, and Mr. Bousdoukos is in a class by himself.

As we follow Zinos and his crew, friends and enemies on their journey, events range from far-out and funny to quite over-the-top. Fortunately Akin pulls back from that brink and allows us to mostly enjoy the nuttiness. I can’t remember another movie (not even The Answer Man) that gets so many laughs out of a bad back, with Bousdoukos expertly mining the comedy and pain. Bleibtreu makes a wonderfully charming scamp brother; despite his dreadful misdeeds, you love him. Also in the cast are Birol Ünel (real-and-then-some as the temperamental new chef; Dorka Gryllus (from Irina Palm), shown below, as a helpful masseuse/chiropractor; Wotan Wilke Möhring as an old "friend" of Zinos; and everyone’s favorite German creep Udo Kier, as an over-eager investor.

Fortunately, the movie runs only 99 minutes; even then it some-
times threatens “too-muchness.” But that spirit of positive anarchy always, if barely, wins out. By the finale, you’ll feel good, all right, but you’ll also have been put through the mill. Soul Kitchen opens Friday, Aug. 20, at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.


At the press screening/party for Soul Kitchen held two weeks ago at Manhattan’s Crosby Street Hotel (what a terrific screening room that place has!), Filmmaker Fatih Akin (shown below) welcomed guests, chatting them up in friendly, easy fashion, one by one. We managed to get him outside the door of the noisy party room for a quick chat, during which we asked why a guy as good looking as he does not work in front of the camera more often (you can see him playing a border guard in In July). “The actor who was supposed to play the role didn’t show up,” he explained, “so I had to step in. But no, I really prefer to be on the other side of the camera!”

We also asked about how Fatih had managed to corral such a great cast, with everyone so right for each role? “You get to know people, and you work with them, and you understand how and where they will best fit.” We also asked how he managed to get an actor as big and important as Bleibtreu, shown below, one of Germany’s most famous. “Moritz is an old friend:  We go way back. I also worked with him on In July and on Solino, and he was just as famous in Germany back then. But now, I think, he is more famous internationally. But he’s been big in Germany for many years.” (TrustMovies had forgotten that the actor was even present In July; it’s been over a decade since he's seen that film, and at the time he didn’t know who Bleib-
treu -- who’s done terrific work in everything from The Experiment to The Walker to The Baader Meinhoff Complex -- was.)

We didn’t want to take up too much of the director’s time, as many more folk were awaiting their chance to chat. So we thanked him for his very enjoyable film and will hope to see his next one soon.

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