Home Communication Turkish German Cinema in the New Millennium: Sites, Sounds, and Screens
Associations with Hamburg yield a kind of cultural archaeology of this city as Heimat, bearing in mind that Germany had defined itself according to jus sanguinis (right of blood), yielding to jus soli ([birth-]right of place). As one might expect with Akin, film culture is central to his archive of this city, complementing the film's sound archive. Toward the end of the film, when Zinos goes to Kemal the bone cruncher for chiropractic treatment, the contraption attached to the floor-bound patient is visually reminiscent of a scene in Luis Bunuel's Un chien andalou (1929), which links a donkey to a piano. The graveyard obituary for Nadine's grandmother is laced with film titles, such as the biblically based Through a Glass Darkly, Ingmar
Bergman's film of 1961. The biblical tone accords with the funeral oration (the phrase comes from Corinthians 1:13), but the resonance is decidedly with cinephilia, not religious ritual. The death of cinema is not on the horizon, even in the digital age that in this film is held effectively at bay. The only death is that of Nadine's grandmother; the only potentially waning force is the original biblical resonance. Still more joyfully iconoclastic is the sermon's incorporation of the phrase Face to Face, a further Bergman title (1976), but also of an Italo-Western of 1967 by Sergio Sollima. This constellation, on the one hand a Nordic model, on the other a generic interloper fusing backgrounds, embodies the very alternatives into which Akin refuses to be pigeonholed.
Ahead of these Bergman references, the script of this mock sermon varies the recurring refrain "when the child was a child" that permeates Wenders's Der Himmel uber Berlin (Wings of Desire, 1987). New German Cinema yet again provides the most fertile reference point for Akin's film in its tacit repositioning of territory marked by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wenders. While its mood rules out Fassbinder references such as those crucial to Head-On (Fachinger 2007; Hillman 2010), Soul Kitchen's relaxed denouement contrasts to the Otherness of the outsider through the ostracization or sentimentalization found in Fassbinder's Katzelmacher (1969). Fassbinder's Jorgos the Greek, originally mistaken for an Italian, was lost in Germany and seemingly unable to return home. Akin's Zinos would be lost without Germany, specifically Hamburg.
The Wenders film most relevant to Hamburg is The American Friend (1977). In a scene toward the end of Soul Kitchen the dastardly Neumann's representative holds sway until the last moment at the auction that will seal the fate of the restaurant. This undoubtedly draws on the early scene in Wenders's film where a fake masterpiece is on offer, a transaction seen through solely by the German Jonathan. With Akin, Zinos is really the one to salvage culinary culture from the clutches of Neumann and his henchmen, on behalf of his clientele of mixed, but predominantly German background. Neumann remains a Teutonic variant of capitalistic excess, a generic villain who happens to be German. Where the clash of transatlantic cultures remains an important subtext in Wenders's film, the merry melting pot in Soul Kitchen is unproblematic, and largely matches the way in which the United States had always styled itself. The old motif of Hollywood images vis-a-vis German images had preoccupied the New German Cinema, and Wenders in particular. Such a tension is superseded by the transnationalism of Akin's films. This new paradigm would have been deemed a most unlikely achievement of a (Euro-)German director or indeed any director before the new millennium.
Wenders's soundtracks in films after The American Friend lend themselves to closer comparison with Akin's roving musical choices, a parallel pursued above. But one detail further links the two directors, the tiny music box-like machine with its rotating lever that Zinos plays with fascination in an early scene at the restaurant. The viewer has seen one of these before, somewhere in a shelved memory. It belonged to none other than the Homer figure in Wings of Desire. His face expressed similar delight, and via this visual allusion reinforces the film's countless references to the Iliad and Odyssey. Where Homer in Wings of Desire preserved the narrative of history midst the disorientation of postwar Potsdamer Platz, Akin's Sokrates preserves a myth of Hamburg with his boat that is never launched, and is housed in the same derelict building. That he is the resident spiritus locus emerges with his spirited defense of Zinos's bidding at the auction, when any historical continuity is threatened by the schemes of Neumann. Thus even ancient and modern Greek literary references are harmonized, given that the restaurateur's surname is Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek and revered by Thomas Mann.
As elsewhere in his oeuvre, Akin's allusions proliferate, redirecting another New German Cinema notion, namely Alexander Kluge's wish to activate the film in the spectator's head. Where Kluge had implied a cerebral creative process, catalyzed by a nonlinear narrative, Akin activates films in the cinephile's head, a process complementing an almost independent narrative. It is also a process pointing to a quality of open- endedness in watching an Akin film, but in a different sense compared to European cinema's frequent counterpointing itself against the seamless and rounded narrative ideals of classical Hollywood. While the setting of Soul Kitchen never leaves Hamburg, the narrative ranges across ancient European culture and history, New German Cinema, Turkish German Greek triangulations, Anglo American, African American, and German music, and the very notion of Heimat. While conceived as a light break from Akin's trilogy, it is also a film that mixes rich ingredients for audiences far beyond Hamburg.
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