Soul Kitchen

Soul Kitchen

Tonight at the MFAH, Soul Kitchen premieres, as part of the museum’s Premieres: Contemporary World Cinema series. Director Fatih Aken‘s Venice Film Festival Special Jury prize winner is a departure from his two previous films, as Soul Kitchen explores a comedic range from physical slapstick to the relative comfort-food of Americanized light comedy (think Jennifer Anniston).

I’d been aware of Fatih Aken’s Head-On and The Edge of Heaven, so I expected the screener DVD that MFAH sent over to be a heady drama with an unlikely title (i.e., Soul Kitchen). And Soul Kitchen does concern itself with Europe’s brave new world of multicultural human condition — it just does so with a delicate recipe of broad comedy and more subtle situational passages between very real characters experiencing recognizable, dramatic life events.

Aken’s protagonist is a harried young restaurateur concerned mainly with his greasy-spoon comfort food restaurant and his beautiful, worldly girlfriend who is leaving Hamburg for Shanghai to become a newspaper’s foreign correspondent. Early in the film, we see him dote on her even while frying frozen fish and fries. His restaurant is called Soul Kitchen, but his life lacks soul. He spends his time arguing with a waitress to whom he really ought to be a better friend, dealing with his jailbird brother in a less than empathetic way, and pursuing the woman of his dreams, if not of his destiny. He fights to pay his bills even as a financial savior vaguely threatens to save him while destroying his dream of maintaining his imperfect restaurant.

But through a series of soulful decisions — following his soul, perhaps, and not his heart — he turns his life around. It’s often painful. He makes decisions he’d rather not make. He loses sleep, and money, and friends, but the short-term discomfort leads to a greater success than he’d imagined possible when we first met him.

The greatest revelation to me, however, was when I read a recent interview that Fatih Aken gave to the L.A. Times, where he laid his film’s metaphor wide open, shedding light on his message in a way artists rarely do. His film, he said, is an allegory for filmmaking. He felt trapped after his previous two films were so successful. He wanted to make this comedy about life and love and friends and food-as-art, but he felt his reputation as a worldly film maker would not allow him to, basically, stoop so low as to make a light-hearted comedy.

Then his mentor Andreas Thiel died. Thiel had wanted Aken to make Soul Kitchen, and absent his producer and mentor, the metaphor seemed imminent and relevant. Filmmaking is like running a restaurant that serves junk food to hungry, appreciative audiences. They eat it up, they leave satisfied, fat yet malnourished. But if you’re willing to challenge your audience, you can find rooms full of people willing to consume delicate art and become enriched by it. In film as well as food, there are people willing to pay for artful sustenance, and the word of mouth can sustain an artist, a chef, a director, and an audience member.

Fatih Aken’s Soul Kitchen proves an artful antidote to the recipe of empty calories, of high ratings for low content. For in his comedy, we all win; we leave with our bellies and our hearts healthy. Our souls enriched by the soul food served by Soul Kitchen this week at MFAH’s Brown Auditorium.

Directed by Fatih Aken. Germany, 2009. Color, 99 Minutes. German with English subtitles.

[Soul Kitchen is playing at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Tuesday through Sunday, November 23rd through November 28th.]
(IFC Films -- http://www.ifcfilms.com/; Corazon International -- http://www.corazon-int.de/; Pandora Film -- http://www.pandorafilm.de/; Pyramide Films -- http://www.pyramidefilms.com/; Soul Kitchen -- http://www.soul-kitchen-film.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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