Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Soul Kitchen Movie Review : Fine Dining, Gentrification, and Seductive Desserts

Direct from our New York correspondent, Food Maven Will L.:

Fatih Akin's award-winning comedy “Soul Kitchen” is a fun tale about relationships swirling around Zinos Kazantsakis' restaurant as well as the gentrification of a working-class neighborhood. Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) plays Ken Kesey to the motley staff of ☛ his brother, Ilias (Moritz Bleibtreu), who is out on parole only during work hours,   ☛ his hard-drinking beautiful barmaid, Lucia (Anna Bederke), ☛ waiter and guitarist, Lutz (Lucas Gregorowicz), and ☛ resident cantankerous old man, Sokrates (Demir Gökgöl).

During a farewell-to-Shanghai party for Zinos' girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan), the chef at the fancy restaurant, Shayn (Birol Ünel), throws a knife-wielding fit when a customer asks him to microwave the gazpacho. Shayn is promptly fired, and Zinos, impressed by Shayn's parting words, “You're selling what can't be sold: love, sex and the soul,” offers him a job. Soul Kitchen will never be the same.

Before Shayn's arrival, Soul Kitchen catered to the working-class neighborhood with simple, American food such as frozen pizzas, fried fish, hamburgers, and macaroni & cheese. Shayn is appalled and creates a fine dining parody of Zinos' cooking:
3 de-breaded fish sticks
1 tomato rose
Sauce of equal parts ketchup and mayonnaise
Place tomato rose in the center of the plate. Arrange the fish sticks in spindles out from the rose. Dress artfully with sauce.
Shayn is allowed to rework the menu to the displeasure of Soul Kitchen's working-class customers who empty the restaurant to Shayn's declarations that they are “peasants” and “culinary racists.” Lutz's band begins using the empty restaurant for practice, and Zinos allows him to throw a concert in the vacant space. The young, hip crowd, in narcotic-crazed hunger, demands food, and Zinos summons Shayn back to the restaurant. Gentrification brings the restaurant great fortune. Prepare the rest of the movie as follows:
Heavy dose of music
Equal parts:
  evil real estate developers
  Texas Hold 'Em
Shake well. Serve on a big screen.

There was one other dish that makes an appearance: an orgy-inducing dessert.
Whipped cream
1 pinch to 1 cup Honduran tree bark (or your choice of mythical aphrodisiac)
Stir. Serve to either a) the woman of your dreams that you want to seduce, or b) the tax inspector you want to hate-$#!@.
The Bechdel Test this movie does not pass. Faith Akin describes the roles of the three women in the film as portrayals of “objects of desire and longing.” The actresses, particularly Ms. Bederke and Dorka Gryllus, are able to breathe some semblance of greater complexity than mere objects of desire into their characters, but they serve little other purpose than as foils for the sexual appetites of the men. Which is probably why the complex dessert above must play such a central role in the men's attempt to seduce them.

Faith Akin also describes the movie as an attack on the gentrification of old working-class neighborhoods, but the film actually celebrates gentrification into hip-dom and the alienation of the working-class. The problem is, of course, when evil real estate developers want to turn your favorite restaurant/music venue into condos. Those old dockworkers were such an uncultured drag, anyways.

“Soul Kitchen” is really all about the music, and the soundtrack is quite good. It reminded me of Monday nights at Babe's and Ricky's Inn in Los Angeles where $5 got you the best blues west of the Rockies and a heaping buffet of fried chicken, fried okra and collard greens. You went for the music and stayed for the food because, hey!, it's included in the price, right?

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