"Boiling Point", released last December 29th by Filmin and Apple TV, is undoubtedly and by far the best film of 2021. A rare gem which combines a rounded script with a perfect casting direction, a prodigious photography and a fast-paced rhythm, but above all, it is a testimony of an era, ours, and the daily reality of working in it.
Carly (Vinette Robinson), Freeman (Ray Panthaki) and Andy (Stephen Graham) in 'Boiling Point'.
Rather than choral, "Boiling Point" is a moving tapestry. For an hour and a half, it presents each and every day-to-day experience of a Friday night in a restaurant with the tension of a thriller and the pace of an action movie.
We are at the antipodes of the alienating but relaxed routine of occupational video games. There is no simulation here. In the kitchen, the lack of enough manpower - and even materials - shows up from the very first moment. The emotional terrain is perfectly delineated both in the kitchen - guilt, alienation, submission to absurd rhythms... and all those things we "can't talk about here" - as well as in the restaurant - "I have to remind myself that I like my job".
In Boiling Point's patchwork of situations and tensions, the real virtue of the script is that it puts everything in its proper and rightful place: from the rude customer who puts his frustration on the table as he arrives, to the jerkish but friendly dishwasher who arrives late and dumps on his partner as much of his workload as he can.
There are no forced emphases: eventually having the maître's or waitresses' butts groped or the health inspector making an "acceptable" but racist comment about the cook is annoying but undramatic. As in real work, it seasons but does not change the stale taste of the raw material.
Nor is the personal and financial downfall of the chef, whose role is purely instrumental to the whole, overemphasized. He is simply a "good boss" who does it badly. The character that condenses an unsustainable system. It is clear to us how little better it would be for those who work there if he did it "right".
Andy, the chef, will use the permanent self-blame and fear-mongering that are part of the miserable language of over-exploited labor. They will be his personal escape and end up bouncing back on himself. But there is no aesop and no attempt to put the focus on power relations. Author of "Band of Brothers" and "Chernobyl", Philip Barantini, the director and screenwriter, is one of the few filmmakers who still knows how to show a system without hiding it under its manifestations.
Boiling Point's center of mass will fall on the two cooks, the responsible souschef Carly (Vinette Robinson) and the long-suffering Freeman (Ray Panthaki), who face their own struggle: to carry out the orders despite their inadequate means while seeing their work devalued on the other side of the order counter. The link with the waiters is broken by a head waitress, self-centered and incompetent daughter of the senior partner, who keeps her mind on social media and maximizing bookings for higher billings, but understands neither the logic of the job nor how it relates to the production of what she sells.
Carly and Freeman represent the daily epic of those who take refuge from the system by doing their job well. Barantini understands them and represents them much better than usual. "Boiling Point" does not portray them with the complacent and moralizing loftiness with which Orwell described Boxer in "Animal Farm". Here they are not the long-suffering, passive horse that grinds the mill by sympathetically and irrationally tolerating his exploiters, they are tragic heroes.
Getting production up and running is their way of coping daily with a dysfunctional work system that destroys those who do the work as much as it destroys the outcome. They will live every dish well done and delivered on time as an intimate triumph. A triumph over the bosses, the absurd times they impose and their sloppy work, but also over the alienation of some colleagues and the disconnection of others.
And they will end up snapping, of course. But the way they will do so is also important and reflects the historical moment. We are far from the languid call to collective struggle of Ken Loach's "Riff Raff" (1990). The rebellion means denouncing, confronting, coming to blows if necessary with the chef... and getting out of a job "that doesn't pay". Expression and desertion, I instead of we, ethics rather than politics, frustration that explodes instead of change that imposes itself.
Direction and photography in "Boiling Point"
Barantini and Graham during the shooting of 'Boiling Point'.
All this wrapped up in an absolutely immersive visual storytelling. "Boiling Point" is shot in a single sequence shot. Yes, like "1917", but in its antipodes: there is no pretense of subjective camera, it does not intend to build identity with the "hero". It serves however to put us inside the story to the point where we do not even perceive it as a "story" anymore. It is too real. So real that not even for a moment does the comparison with a documentary or a reality show come to mind.
Shot indoors with very differentiated environments and outdoors at night, the most difficult part, the lighting effort and its changes, become imperceptible to us. Technically, "Boiling Point" is an achievement.
Not to mention the gigantic choreography into which the massive sequence shot turns the direction of the actors. Not a single one of them can miss or enter out of time without forcing the whole scene to be retaken. The tension suffered by some really well-directed and brilliant actors lends even more credibility to their characters. In fact, in a game of mirrors between the story and the shooting, they sometimes fail and the camera provides cover for them, taking out of frame the dishes that go wrong or the things that go wrong on the stove before the audience notices them.
And in the same way, collective work does not prevent us from perceiving individual brilliance. And it must be said that Vinette Robinson, Stephen Graham and, above all, Ray Panthaki are immense.
"Boiling Point": the best film of the year 2021.
Trailer of "Boiling Point"
The social impossibility of Art in the moment we live in is so evident in the sterility of the cultural commodities offered to us that we are rarely compelled to argue it. In general, the difference between the aesthetic, the socially appreciated creation at a given moment, and art is that artistic work propitiates an "intimate change in our perception of both the world and our collective perspective", while conventionally beautiful or "entertaining" pieces "protect" (shield) us from the former.
Read also: What do you mean there is no more Art? (in Spanish), 10/8/2019.
"Boling Point" challenges us on many levels. From the most basic - are restaurants necessary - to the deepest: does it make sense for someone to work like this? Is it the only possible way to do things?
And it does so by squeezing the realistic mode of representation to the limit. In its forms it wants to seem unassuming, as the food critic says in one of the mirror moments of the script, "unpretentious, not complicated, lovely and simple". That is why in "Boiling Point" technical mastery and innovation are intentionally made invisible to the viewer.
That is to say, the art-making intention is as clear as the success of the forms within the model of storytelling it embraces.
However, whether it is art or not does not depend just on the piece itself. This is determined by a social environment made practically impossible by the hammering of the opinion industry. The latter are not satisfied with "Boiling Point" remaining unfinished, confined to the individual but distrustful of the system's ability to maintain the minimum cohesion necessary to continue. They want something else. They want guilt and representation of fed-up workers as "Parasites". But none of that detracts from "Boiling Point" being by far the best film of 2021, our first 5/5.