La Cocina

La Cocina

Dir. Alonso Ruizpalacios / 2024 / 139 mins / USA, Mexico / English, Spanish / Victorian Premiere

Rooney Mara stars in this gorgeously shot, righteously angry portrait of kitchen workers stewing in the pressure-cooker conditions of a New York City bistro.

At popular Times Square establishment The Grill, Estela meets the many characters who will soon define her working life in this new country, including waitress Julia (Mara); her boyfriend Pedro (Raúl Briones, A Cop Movie, MIFF 2021), a chef; and his rival Max. As the cooks battle it out for culinary supremacy, Julia clashes with Pedro over whether to terminate her pregnancy, while Estela and the other undocumented migrants weigh up their fates in the US. Meanwhile, between the frenzy of orders and errands, the staff discuss romance, family and their memories of home.

Based on Arnold Wesker’s play The Kitchen and informed by the director’s own experiences of minimum-wage drudgery, this Berlinale competition standout interrogates the sad realities of the restaurant industry, the exploitation of immigrant workers and the cultural disconnect between North and Latin America. But Alonso Ruizpalacios (Museum, MIFF 2018) also contrasts his film’s kitchen-confidential chaos with moments of quiet humanity, with stately compositions, gliding tracking shots and immaculate black-and-white cinematography further enhancing the palette. Fans of The Bear are sure to have their behind-the-food drama cravings sated.

“Thrilling … The way Ruizpalacios handles his ensemble mirrors the energy of a boisterous, late-career Altman movie.” – Variety