Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Boiling Point – when you can’t stand the heat but can’t get out of the kitchen (QFT until 20 January)

Chef Andy (Stephen Graham) receives bad news about the business as the kitchen staff prep the evening’s menu. Over an hour and a half we watch a restaurant open, patrons arriving and food being served. Familial and financial problems on top of some unexpected guests and unwelcome ingredients turn the eatery into an explosive environment.

In this one-shot wonder, time feels somewhat accelerated in the intense atmosphere. Despite the continuous action and the lack of cuts, it feels like we’re in there for hours longer than the film lasts. But does the fact that it’s a single take affect the nature of the storytelling? Yes and no.

All films vary their pace, yet the moments in Boiling Point when the action is allowed to simmer or even cool down – a character will wander out to the quiet car park or lock themselves in a toilet for a much-needed cry – are much more noticeable.

There are plenty of characters to wind up the audience. Work-shy Jake (Daniel Larkai) is forever swinging the lead, a brutish father with racist attitudes deserves to be grilled as heavily as his lamb, a celebrity chef (Jason Flemyng) who isn’t all sweetness and light, and a bunch of arm-chancing influencers are allowed to order off-menu by het up maître d’ Beth (Alice Feetham).

A lot of secondary characters are introduced, very few are given the opportunity develop to any sort of conclusion, leaving the audience somewhat starved rather than sated. It feels like style does dictate form or at least constrains the plot. (The same is true of the much more ambitious Victoria and 1917 which stitched together a number of long takes.) The food looks fabulous, and the performances are strong and theatrical – no one in the background ever looks like they’re standing waiting for something to happen – but a lot of loose ends are left untied.

While the plot is centred on Andy’s slide into despondency – his very own dies horribilis – the performances of the actors closest to him in the kitchen are what binds the whole cinematic meal together. The tender exchange between the two pastry chefs is particularly beautiful. Sous chef Carly (Vinette Robinson) would do nearly anything for her tormented boss if he’d just let her in to his life. Robinson adeptly switches gear from pouring oil on troubled waters to setting scenes on fire. Carly’s rant at the maître d’ is perhaps the strongest sequence in the film, which in a real open-plan restaurant would surely have had customers intervening.

Much is written about the cinematography, but the remote focus puller James Woodbridge deserves nearly as much credit for keeping the shots sharp as camera operator Matthew Lewis who hauled the camera rig around the set (twice a day for two nights in a row before lockdown regulations intervened).

The surround sound mix is also stunning, focussing on the current area of the restaurant yet very naturally feeding in other cues from the sides and behind to begin to guide the viewer to the next scene before the camera turns. Once you know the story, you could nearly return to the cinema with an eye mask, and sit back to enjoy the richness of the soundscape. Expect funny looks if you try this.

Fundamentally, Boiling Point is an examination of each characters’ insecurities. Front and back of house, as well as the punters, go under director Philip Barantini’s microscope to find their emotional buttons.

This particular script might not have been sustained by a conventionally shot and edited film. The method of preparation defines what is served up. But as it is, the dish isn’t overcooked, and the spicy interaction with the ingredient characters creates a tasty film to savour. Boiling Point is on the menu at Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 20 January.


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