LFF 2021 film review: Boiling Point
Anton Bitel | On 11, Oct 2021
Director: Philip Barantini
Cast: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Jason Flemyng
Where to watch Boiling Point online in the UK: London Film Festival
Boiling Point is streaming at the 2021 London Film Festival. Find out more about how the festival works and what else is playing online here.
There is a scene in the middle of Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point when celebrity chef Alastair Skye (Jason Flemyng) flamboyantly adds a sprinkle of za’atar that he has just ostentatiously requested from waitress Robyn (Áine Rose Daly), to bring to his idea of perfection a dish that he says is only “98% there”. His dining companion Sara Southworth (Lourdes Faberes), a restaurant critic with a fearsome reputation for harshness, is embarrassed by Alastair’s display. “It’s unpretentious, it doesn’t complicate itself, it’s lovely, it’s simple,” she says of the dish, recalling food critic Anton Ego in Brad Bird’s Ratatouille. “I quite like it and reviewing is – it’s like sex. You go by what’s there, not by what’s not there, you know.”
Sara’s description of her meal serves equally as a breakdown of what Barantini has on the menu. Expanded from his 2019 short film of the same name, with Stephen Graham reprising his lead role, Boiling Point offers us a snapshot of the kitchen, dining rooms, bar areas, bathrooms and back alleys that make up a successful restaurant over one busy night in the build-up to Christmas. It follows an ensemble of cooks, serving staff and customers. But what brings (apparent) simplicity to this otherwise complex mix of characters, ingredients and flavours is the film’s formal presentation: a single, sinuous take, from beginning to bitter end, which brings a real-time immediacy to everything on screen, disguising all the behind-the-scenes sophistication beneath the straightforward linearity of DP Matthew Lewis’ camerawork.
That said, the film makes constant play of contrasting what is happening on the restaurant’s floor, as moneyed diners and influencers bask in the momentary trendiness of the establishment, and the struggles behind the kitchen counter to keep the food coming and the demanding clientèle happy. At the centre of all this is Andy Jones (Graham), the head chef and a former employee of dining guest Alastair. Arriving late for work, Andy finds Alan Lovejoy (Thomas Coombes) from the Environmental Agency waiting for him, and sees his restaurant’s health rating downgraded from five stars to three. Andy is quick to berate his staff for their minor infringements of food standards, making it appear that he will be an exacting, aggressive Gordon Ramsay type – but in fact the lowered rating comes down mostly to Andy’s own sloppy record-keeping.
Indeed, as the evening goes on, all the problems in the kitchen will essentially be the fault of Andy, with his sous-chef Carly (Vinette Robinson) and meat chef Freeman (Ray Panthaki) growing ever more exasperated with their boss’ carelessness and distraction as they are left to pick up the endless slack. Even as the restaurant seems to be at the peak of its popularity, with Andy a rising star on the culinary scene, we catch glimpses of this chef’s foibles and frailties, as his private issues start poisoning everything around him. Other members of staff – commis pastry chef Jamie (Stephen McMillan), maître d’ Beth (Alice Feetham) and dishwasher Jeff (Daniel Larkai) – may be concealing personal problems, but Andy’s are bigger. As captain of this ship, he risks bringing it down with him.
If Boiling Point were filmed in a more conventional manner, with lots of cuts in the editing suite to match the chopping and carving in the kitchen, its soapier elements would bubble more to the surface. Yet as the food critic said, judgment should be made of what’s there rather than of what’s not there, and the presentation of this night’s events in one fluid, uninterrupted take brings a vividly immersive perspective on the inner workings of a bustling, buzzy restaurant and its beleaguered staff. It allows the viewer to be a fly on the wall as things start to break down. It is thrillingly tense – and while all the sweetest scenes aptly take place in the pastry station run by Emily (Hannah Walters), these are offset by a tartness that will eventually come to dominate.
Boiling Point is streaming on BFI Player from 9pm on 11th October until 9pm on 12th October 2021. Book a ticket here. You have 24 hours to start watching and 4 hours to complete the film once you’ve started.