Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Soul Food

It's supposed to be an oxymoron, a German comedy, even though Oscar-nominated Oliver Schmitz assures me that he makes a living in Berlin as a director of TV comedies when he isn't making serious dramas about black South Africans.

But then Soul Kitchen goes a step further and turns out to be a romantic comedy. Could this be possible? Could it possibly work? Well, yes, actually. Rather well. And the reason why it works might well be the same as why the German national football team is so much more interesting these days.

That is, it no longer consists of only Schweinsteigers, Schillers and Schumachers. Not only are there a couple of Polish names in there now, but also quite a few Turkish ones, even an African. In other words, the team is no longer purely European. The old gene pool is being given a shake-up.

Hamburg-based director Fatih Akin is of Turkish extraction - his parents were probably so-called guest labourers (Gastarbeiter) - and his leading actor and fellow scriptwriter is clearly not echt Deutsch with a Greek name like Adam Bousdoukos.

So the latter as Zinos Kazantsakis has a restaurant that sells bad food to appreciative people. The only problem is that he has a brother, Illias, who's a criminal, played by Moritz Bleibtreu, who always has that air of Fassbinderian decadence and intelligence about him.

Zinos also has a purely Aryan girlfriend, Pheline Roggan, who is as precious (but okay) as the day is long; and he has an elderly tenant, Sokrates (Demir Gokgol), who verbally abuses him and never pays the rent. Such is life.

Everything seems to go wrong when Zinos slips a disc in his back and spends the rest of the movie walking like, as Illias says about someone else, he has a carrot up his arse. It's very funny because Zinos just happens to look a lot like Jim Morrison of The Doors - in other words, a god.

That is about the only thing the title of the movie and the song by that band has in common, nor does it really deliver on its promise of being a soul music-themed movie. It's way too inclusive for that. There's everything from the stuff you'll hear in elevators to the beats you'll get in an Istanbul disco.

And just to add to the tasty stew, there is Zinos's precious chef. Birol Unel as Shayn Weiss is every millilitre the kitchen dictator, stylish fringe, camp rage and all; and who wouldn't fall for Zinos's Turkish physio, Anna (Dorka Gryllus)?

If the film is predictable in its romance and plot - Aryan property developer wants to take over by means foul - and if the device as to how Zinos wins back his restaurant after brother Illias gambles it away is utterly contrived, then it scores in the areas that count.

That is, not only is it a celebration of the new world citizen, the migrant; it is also a reminder that some of us are - or once were - young, wild, beautiful and divinely cuckoo.

Neil Sonnekus

* Not to blow our Yamaha too much, but do note that we featured an interview of new Man Booker prizewinner Howard Jacobson a week before he won that hallowed prize for The Finkler Question. Now is that sharp or is it sharp?

No comments:

Post a Comment