Q&A: Fatih Akin


After bursting on the international scene with "Head-On" (2004) and "The Edge of Heaven" (2007), German director Fatih Akin serves up "Soul Kitchen" like a light snack between meals. The funky, feel-good comedy has none of the gritty realism and culture clash politics Akin has made his trademark. The story of the Greek-German Zilios and his attempt to turn his Hamburg grease pit into a three star hot spot is as light as a souffle and as easy to digest. Akin spoke to THR's German Bureau Chief Scott Roxborough on his change of pace and why making an easygoing film is a lot harder than it looks.

The Hollywood Reporter: You're last two films had heavy and difficult themes -- two such heavy and difficult films lead to this light comedy?

Akin: Because they were so heavy and difficult! I really get caught up in my films, and the last two wore me out. I needed something lighter, to relax a bit. But it wasn't a break at all. This was the hardest time I've ever had making a movie. Comedy is technically a very difficult genre. It is so precise and so difficult to get the right flow, the right feel to it.

THR: How close is the film to your real life? It's set in the same area of Hamburg where you grew up.

Akin: My films always come from my life. This is a very personal film, too, just on a different level than "Head-On" or "The Edge of Heaven." I wrote the script together with my friend Adam Bousdoukos, who plays the lead. And we took a lot from our own lives. For about 10 years I lived that very extreme lifestyle that you see in the movie -- the partying, the Hamburg club scene. That was also a part of my life. And I wanted to capture that. I know it was a risk doing a film like this, but I thought I better do this film now. I don't want to be 60 or 70 and regret not making it.

THR: Unlike your last two features, there's no overt political message here at all.

Akin: The politics are there if you want to look for them but they're all very subtle, in the background. For the first time, my hero (an ethnic Greek) is not searching -- for an identity or a 'homeland.' His home is Hamburg and he never questions that he belongs there. That's a political statement. But it's in the background, it's not the story of the film.

THR: How was the shoot?

Akin: It was really difficult. Usually I'm very prepared and organized. If the shoot is set to run to 5 p.m., I'm done at 4:30. But this time, we'd shoot scenes, I'd look at the rushes and realize it wasn't working. I'd rewrite, come in with the new script. We'd reshoot, I'd rewrite and so on. I think a lot of my colleagues in the art house world, even very esteemed ones, look down on genre cinema as simpler, easier. But it's really much, much harder to do. Because there are rules you have to follow. America directors understand this much better and I have a great admiration for them. Personally, I want to be able to do both -- I'd like to know the rules and be able to work within them, and I'd like to toss them out if I want to.

THR: Are you worried about the reception of this film -- it's not aiming at the same audience as "Head-On" and "The Edge of Heaven"?

Akin: Well, it's clear this is more a film for the multiplex than for Cache du Cinema. But you can't please everyone. Look at the Coen Brothers with "Burn After Reading." A lot of people criticized them because they wanted another "No Country for Old Men." I was grateful. Sometimes you want a film where you pay your money, lean back and just have a good time.

THR: Music always plays a big role in your films and it's no different here. It's a real funky soundtrack. How do you pick music for your films?

Akin: When I start a new film I always want it to be completely different from the one that came before. It has to look different, feel different and definitely sound different. In "The Edge of Heaven" I was very sparing with music. For "Soul Kitchen" I wanted a completely different sound. I went back to the music that has made a huge impression on me, and that's African-American music post-Jazz. Soul in particular. I know soul is very in right now -- with Amy Winehouse and Duffy starting this soul revival -- but with me it goes back a lot further. When I was writing the script, I always had a song in mind for each scene and in 85% of the cases, that's the song you hear in the film. These are my songs, they're the songs in my own record collection, the songs I put on when I DJ.

THR: What's up next? Will you finish the Love, Death and the Devil trilogy you started with "Head-On" and "The Edge of Heaven"?

Akin: Yes, I'm going to complete the trilogy. I'm working on "the Devil" (the film is still untitled, but it will not be called "The Devil"), I can't say much about it except that it will be four hours long and in black and white. Probably with an orchestral score. I've been doing a lot of research for it and I'm quite a long ways on, but I'm taking my time. I don't want to rush anything. Of course, this is my job, it's what people pay me for and I have to live. But I want to make films that stand up. I'm not going to push it to make some release date or festival date. I'm going to take the time to get it right.