domenica 25 aprile 2010

Soul Food

I need to go to the movies as much as I need to have lunch or dinner.
Sometimes, weirdly enough, the two things coincide. Not that I started eating in cinema halls, it is just that I recently seen a couple of movies taking place in bars and restaurants. Neither of them is a masterpiece, but they both have something vital and cheerful that made me thought, once again, how much fun and joie de vivre a person can receive from the vision of a good movie.
The first one is called The Good Heart, it is set in New York but it has been written and directed by an Icelandic film-maker, Dagur Kári. The second once is called Soul Kitchen, it is set in Hamburg but it has been written and directed by a Turkish film-maker, Fatih Akin.
Nice mix of people and places, I tell you.

Dagur Kári became quite famous in 2003 with the very interesting movie Nói Albinói, the story (set in a remote Icelandic fjord) of an endearing drop-out, played by the talented Icelandic/French actor/artist Tómas Lemarquis. For his last movie, Kári decided to move to the States, but it looks like he still loves the same kind of characters: the adorable losers. Jacques and Lucas met in a New York hospital. Jacques, in his sixties, is there because he suffered his fifth heart attack, while Lucas, in his early twenties and already a homeless, failed to kill himself. Not only they don’t have anything in common, but they are completely different as human beings (Jacques is loquacious, rude, cynical, bad-tempered, as much as Lucas is silent, gentle, innocent and good-tempered). Jacques, who doesn’t have any family or relations, is the owner of a small and kaurismakian bar, The House of Oysters (even if the place didn’t see an oyster in ages) and he is looking for somebody who could replace him while he is in hospital or even once he dies. Lucas seems the perfect candidate for the role and, almost against his will, he is immediately hired by the old man. Lucas training is tough, a bit crazy and very funny but, after many adventures, the two men start to get along very well. The arrival of a French hostess who’s afraid to fly and Jacques’s sixth heart attack will complicate things, and the story will end in a very bitter-sweet way.
Blessed by the presence of two great actors, this is a lovely and funny movie, which main defect, I have to say, is the predictability of the screenplay. I mean, it is pretty clear from the beginning what it is going to happen between the two, which will be the effects of the woman’s arrival and what will be the end of the story. Nevertheless, the pleasure of the vision is not diminished by this awareness. The dialogues are brilliant and Jacques character is one of the funniest and most politically incorrect I have recently seen on screen.
A word about the two gentlemen: Brian Cox, who plays Jacques, is a Scottish/Irish actor of outstanding talent. He worked for theatre, TV, cinema, and in my opinion he never had the recognition he deserves. Among his movies: Manhunter, Rushmore, Hidden agenda, Adaptation, Match Point, The Boxer, Zodiac, Running with Scissors, The 25th Hour… just to name few of them! Lucas is played by Paul Dano, the best American actor of his generation (born 1984). Everybody remembers him for his interpretation of the “silent” teenager in Little Miss Sunshine, but his masterpiece has been the double role (he played the twins Paul and Eli Sunday) in There Will be Blood by Paul Thomas Anderson. To be on screen together with Daniel Day Lewis in that movie wasn’t an easy task, for any actor in the world, but Dano managed to be almost as good as Day Lewis, a titanic attempt. If he chooses well his next movies… a star is born!

Not a bar but a loft-space restaurant in the suburbia of Hamburg is the setting of Soul Kitchen, by Fatih Akin. Best known for his dramatic movies, little jewels like Head On (La Sposa Turca) and The Edge of Heaven (Ai confini del Paradiso/De l’autre côté), this time Akin has written, together with Greek-German actor Adam Bousdoukos (who also plays the main role here), a real comedy.
Soul Kitchen is the name of a very modest restaurant in Hamburg, whose owner, Zinos Kazantsakis, is having kind of a bad moment: his girlfriend, a journalist, is going to Shanghai for professional reasons, his brother Illias, freshly got out from jail, is asking for a (false) job at the restaurant, and Zinos himself is having tremendous problems with his back (he almost broke it trying to move a dishwasher). Willing to improve the restaurant and its cuisine, Zinos decides to hire a very good cook, the famous Shayn Weiss, but just when things started to go into the right direction, a real estate agent without scruples comes to ruin Zinos good plans for the future. After a series of dramatic (as well as very funny) events, the Soul Kitchen will have its final revenge.
I could write about this movie the same things I wrote about The Good Heart. This is a lovely, utterly enjoyable and very funny movie, having witty dialogues and amazingly good actors, but something is missing here to be The Perfect comedy. The plot is, in fact, quite predictable and I personally found the female characters a bit stereotyped and uninteresting. Some scenes, though, are just incredibly funny (the hold-up with Zinos unable to run because of his backache or the visit to the Turkish “doctor”). Plus, I am a huge fan of Turkish actor Birol Ünel (the cook), and it was a pure joy to see him playing this charming part. Ah, and the final credits… who’s the genius behind them?

Anyway, sometimes we just need this kind of movies: modern fairy tales where the good win over the bad e tutti vissero felici e contenti.
Soul food to face reality, I guess. Let's eat then!

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