Fatih Akin is better known for his heavier, more political films Head On and The Edge of Heaven, so SOUL KICTHEN, a lightweight concoction, is perhaps a misleading introduction to the director's work. Set in the German city of Hamburg, the story is concerned with Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos), owner-manager of the eponymous restaurant which serves reliable if uninspired food (chicken schnitzel, anyone?) to the regular clientele. But when his girlfriend leaves for work in China, his life begins to unravel.
First he he hires a temperamental and recently-fired 5-star chef (Birol Unel) who proceeds to change the menu and alienate said regulars. Then he vouches for his incarcerated brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu) who comes to perform day release work at the restaurant and brings his old habits with him. And he reunites with an old school friend who works in real estate and sees an excellent development opportunity that he must have – one way or another.
Soul Kitchen unfolds like a comedy of errors as the hardships of Zinos's lot seem to pile up (no wonder he throws his back out) while all he wants to do is be with his girlfriend. That all these narrative strands are tied up rather too neatly at film's end seems to be a rather superfluous complaint given the lightness of the proceedings. It may not be deep, or political, but Soul Kitchen is fun; no three course meal but a pleasing enough appetizer just the same.
2010's been a good year for French releases in Australia; Welcome, Gainsbourg and the bravura Un Prophet specifically. I missed THE HEDGEHOG on its cinema release but am surprised how much I enjoyed it on DVD. I certainly don't recall Australian critics being overly enthusiastic about it.
11-year-old Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) plans to commit suicide on her 12th birthday. It's not that she's unhappy, she'd just rather not end up like her parents or any of the other adults she encounters in her Parisian apartment building. But then a new tenant moves in, the refined Mr. Ozu (Togo Igawa), and his interest in both Paloma and Renee (Josiane Balasko), the building's concierge, and the hedgehog of the title, has the youngster reevaluating her position.
Guillermic's Paloma makes for a refreshing screen child. She's not sweet or particularly endearing but you engage with her intelligence and her openmindedness. But the real pleasure in Mona Achache's film, based on a novel by Muriel Barbery, is the tentative relationship between Ozu and Renee, the latter virtually invisible to her employees but whom Ozu rightly suspects is far more literate and intriguing than any of his neighbours. I'd recommend you find out for yourself.