Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Hot and bothered

If, like me, you've never worked in a high-end restaurant before, Philip Barantini's Boiling Point is likely to be enough to convince you not to give it a try - and, hopefully, leave you with a huge amount more empathy and respect for anyone who does.

The film follows under-fire chef Andy Jones, played (perhaps inevitably) by Stephen Graham - "your go-to guy if you want tight-lipped intensity", as I noted reviewing the BBC's bleak prison-based three-parter Time last year - as he grapples with the stresses of running his own restaurant (financial difficulties, unsociable hours, a minefield of paperwork and health and safety bureaucracy) as well as a messy personal life that's spiralling out of control. His team face challenges, too, largely in the form of the restaurant's clientele, who are demanding, unappreciative and disrespectful.

The drama unfolds over the course of a single evening, during which the visit of Jones' former mentor Alastair Skye (Jason Flemyng) sparks professional animosity (not least because he's brought feared food critic Sara Southworth (Lourdes Faberes) along, unannounced, as his dining guest), waitress Andrea (Lauren Ajufo) is forced to be polite to a racist customer, and a table of entitled influencers behave like, well, entitled influencers.

Much has been made of the fact that the film was shot in a single take, the camera following all of the characters at various points. Not only is this a phenomenal physical and logistical achievement, but it serves a significant aesthetic purpose too, conveying the relentlessness of it all. Respite? None.

Boiling Point is a fiction, of course, so the pressures are deliberately stacked up like a pile of dirty plates as the film moves inexorably to its climax - but that's not to say it's not true to life. Just last week, local eaterie Cora hit the headlines when owner/chef Lee Skeet called out the bad behaviour of a bunch of suits for subjecting restaurant manager Lily Griffiths to verbal insults and unwanted touching. It seems they were of the opinion that the amount they were spending entitled them to act with impunity. Griffiths described it as an isolated incident, but did admit that female staff "experience a lot of power dynamics, particularly with men".

On the evidence of Boiling Point, it's little wonder that the catering industry is suffering a recruitment and retention crisis. The film might well be traumatising for some former restaurant workers, as well as those currently in the thick of it, and it offers no solutions or consolations. Neither would I recommend it to any diners who would prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of what goes on behind the kitchen doors. But as a grimly gripping piece of drama, it's terrific.

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