Friday, February 22, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Husband interrupts just-friends idyll in "Eden"

2.5 stars "Eden," with Josef Ostendorf, Charlotte Roche, Devid Striesow. Written and directed by Michael Hofmann. 98 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (includes disturbing scenes of domestic violence). In German, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema, through Thursday.

The German comedy-drama "Eden" opens with a plump chef massaging and plucking a large live bird, while promising it a rich future as part of a gourmet restaurant meal.

"I'll eat some of you, too, don't worry," he explains in a reassuring tone. No doubt the bird understands.

As long as it's whimsically celebrating the ambiguous joys of cooking, writer-director Michael Hofmann's movie has charm and a sweetness verging on the tart. When it turns to the subject of destructive gossip, it's less sure of itself and more likely to fall back on convention.

The chef, Gregor (Josef Ostendorf), is an aging, virginal kitchen genius who has two hobbies that keep him happy: preparing food and looking at waitresses. When he meets a married cafe waitress named Eden (Charlotte Roche), sparks fly and he becomes attached to the woman and her disabled child.

At first she mistakes Gregor for a shop detective who is waiting for her to slip up; he correctly informs her that a group of beer drinkers will leave their table without paying. He criticizes her wardrobe as unimaginative and claims she smells of stale coffee. She thinks he's a voyeur.

The snippiness recedes almost immediately as she shows up, unannounced, at his home one night, and he acquires the habit of preparing private meals for her. She can't afford his restaurant or even arrange a booking there, but her jealous husband (Devid Striesow) uses his influence to get a table, and he's so impressed by the tastiness of his entree that he licks his plate clean.

At this point, you might think the characters are headed for an understanding that will allow all of them a certain degree of happiness. You would be wrong. Even though the husband realizes why his wife is having a good time for the first time in a long time, he listens to his boorish buddies, who insist he's become a cuckold and may even have allowed Gregor to impregnate Eden.

It's mostly downhill from there, though Roche and Ostendorf, perfectly cast as platonic pals, never quite lose their grasp of what makes this relationship tick. And Hofmann provides them with an ending that's believably bittersweet.

— John Hartl, Special to The Seattle Times

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company


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