VENICE: ‘Soul Kitchen,’ ‘The Double Hour’

Posted by · 4:50 am · September 10th, 2009

Soul KitchenHappily, the bug that kept me down yesterday seems to have flown on the wings of Nurofen and a night’s sleep, so I’m ready to face the Lido madness again.  As if sympathetic to my state, the Competition served up two relatively untaxing titles.

Festival director Marco Müller made it clear that he was experimenting with a more mainstream-friendly approach in this year’s Venice programme — hence the inclusion of “Bad Lieutenant” and “Survival of the Dead,” among others, in the lineup — so the overt genre leanings of Italian psycho-thriller “The Double Hour” came as no surprise, particularly given its hometown advantage. Far less expected was that heavyweight German-Turkish auteur Fatih Akin would arrive with the fluffiest Competition entry to date.

This afternoon brings a second “surprise film” in the Competition (here’s hoping it’s a more pleasant surprise than “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?”), as well as Jaco van Dormael’s “Mr. Nobody.” As eagerly as I’m awaiting the latter, I might have to postpone it to tomorrow, as a producer friend of mine unveils a short film next door. Onto this morning’s films …

“Soul Kitchen” (**)

Fatih Akin’s candyfloss-light character comedy will come as a major shock to those familiar with the 36 year-old director via his solemn arthouse works “Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven.”

Revolving haphazardly around the romantic and professional misadventures of hapless restaurant owner Zinos (real-life restaurateur and co-writer Adam Bousdoukos) in urban Hamburg, the film runs on the food/life/love metaphors you’ve seen in other gastronomically-inclined films, though the broad tone and slight characterizations here put this more in line with “Mostly Martha” than “Big Night.”

Still, enough flashes of Akin’s observational gifts shine through to make this an attractive diversion. The film works best when it dwells on the life at the edges of the story — its most engaging scenes follow the jazzy back-and-forth of restaurant action, as the overlapping energies of dialogue, dance and a chipper soul-funk soundtrack reveal Akin’s excellent feel for locale. Interest dips whenever we leave the restaurant, however, as Zinos’s snowballing external problems — financial woes, an unfaithful girlfriend, a ne’er-do-well brother and a bad back — strain both credibility and sympathy, necessitating one doozy of a deus ex machina to put things right.

Taken as the mainstream trifle it is, however, “Soul Kitchen” is rarely less than endearing — though Akin himself doesn’t seem altogether at ease with the film’s forays into broad slapstick — and as the feckless sibling, Moritz Bleibtrau is a bright spot in the generally game ensemble. In the press notes, Akin speaks of “Soul Kitchen” as a “recovery” film after the gruelling efforts of his previous features, and I don’t begrudge him his fun … or the potential for a crossover hit.

“The Double Hour” (***)

Some critics I spoke to loved Giuseppe Capotondi’s spirited debut feature, an enjoyably high-strung romantic-drama-cum-horror-cum-heist-thriller-cum-romantic-drama-again that one might well have described as Shyamalan-esque before such a comparison became a derogatory one. I wasn’t quite as thrilled, feeling a little cheated by a mid-section that circles in on itself to elegant but slightly inconsequential effect, but there’s more individuality of style and sureness of storytelling here than in many similar genre efforts from across the Atlantic.

Carrying the film with great commitment, lovely Russian thesp Ksenia Rappoport plays Sonia, a lonely hotel maid in Turin whose speed-dating encounter with affable security guard Guido blooms into a romance that is abruptly curtailed when he is killed, and she injured, in an armed robbery at Guido’s place of work. As she recovers, Sonia is plagued by trauma-induced hallucinations that intensify until the film’s axis of reality shifts altogether.

The film turns on a smart, and genuinely unanticipated, wrongfooting, but like many such switchbacks, it slightly undercuts the emotional investment we have so far made in the material. Still, Capotondi is clearly a name to watch.

→ 11 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

11 responses so far

  • 1 9-10-2009 at 5:18 am

    Brent said...

    A shame about the Akin flick. I had barely realized he had a new film until recently, and I expected more. Having loved his prior two features I was pretty excited. Still, your general praise suggests it’s more of a tone shift than any sort of disaster.

  • 2 9-10-2009 at 7:50 am

    han said...

    the second surprise film is brillante mendoza’s lola.

  • 3 9-10-2009 at 8:33 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Brent: Yeah, it’s no disaster at all … just a bit of fun.

    Han: I know. Just saw it. Thanks.

  • 4 9-10-2009 at 11:03 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Disappointing. “Head-On” is so good but “In July” is totally disposable. Sounds like the new one is more akin to the latter (pun very much intended).

  • 5 9-10-2009 at 4:48 pm

    Ali E. said...

    Yeah, Soul Kitchen seems to be closer to In July, and that was a very enjoyable film, so I really don’t mind… And even though this new film of his is quite light, doesn’t it also sound like the closest film to the Jury President Ang Lee? I mean, think about Eat Drink Man Woman and his latest “criticized for being too light” film Taking Woodstock…

    I feel like some award is on the way…

  • 6 9-11-2009 at 2:02 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yeah, that’s what some people here are saying. It’d be a silly choice for the Lion, in my opinion.

  • 7 9-14-2009 at 3:18 am

    Køkkener said...

    Good post, thanks for sharing it.

  • 8 9-18-2009 at 10:51 pm

    bbklobber said...

    Just saw The Double Hour last evening(Sept 18/09) at its’ N. American debut at TIFF in Toronto.

    While it may have sagged a bit in the last third, it did pick up by the end. Considering that it had a budget of $5 million US at the most(director Capotondi-personal communication just after Q and A) it is an excellent film.

    While I attended more because of intrigue regarding Ksenia Rappoport’s winning of Best actress at Venice Film Festival this week, I was not disappointed.

    My suspicion is that Rappoport or movie will not win here in refereed competition , but TIFF has a curious side of picking “underdog”movies as evidenced by Peoples Choice Award last year to hidden gem Slumdog Millionaire. Prior to winning last year SM was scheduled for virtual scrapyard of direct to DVD release.

    Although action/suspense not usually my bag, there are some curious aspects of movie including “immigrant issues” evident that are universal in both Europe and N. America. Gives the movie a bit more “meat and potatoes” to think about rather than the usual action/suspense type movie. Capotondi purposely portrayed situation in a generic fashion with affected population interchangeable in virtually any European city.

    Director Capotondi has crafted a movie that at times is very quick moving and humorous, with plot that is occasionally hard to follow. It does all seem to piece together at the end although most will be speculating nearly aloud prior to the conclusion of the movie.

    3 1/2 stars in my book although I will leave experts to muse over final tally.

    Italian language with fairly decent subtitles that are fairly reasonable to follow although I was in the first 10 rows of theatre quite by accident.

    Agree that we will be hearing more from director Capotondi after this debut release. Both he and Filippo Timi(Guido) were animated, humble and passionate about the content and format of this movie at the Q and A after debut of movie at TIFF.

  • 9 8-05-2014 at 9:01 am

    Claudia said...

    09? well i completely mseisd the boat! I read that capotondi was a music video guy before this so it was good to see that he didn’t fall into the trap many do by giving us one long music vid. strong casting meant that the convoluted story became a mystery instead of a chore.

  • 10 2-19-2015 at 8:09 am

    Raju said...

    No, I saw this when it was released in theertas in 2009 here and I love that over two years later people are still discovering and loving the film.Forgot to mention in my previous post that VINCERE is on Netflix Instant in case you were interested.

  • 11 3-24-2015 at 6:47 pm

    Cristiam said...

    cheers. i take it you are in the states, as this hit eupore in 2010, i only just caught onto it now due to the us release in april/may. i have seen the unkown woman, rapporport great as you say.