New York Stories

Berlinale 2024 (2)

Six years ago Alfonso Ruizpalacios won the Silver Bear in Berlin with his film "Museo" (Museum) and might be among the winners again this year. "La Cocina" (The Kitchen, Mexico, USA 2024) takes us behind the scenes of the high-end restaurant "The Grill" in Times Square, New York City. Mainly Mexicans work in the kitchen, most of them without a valid residence permit. There are also blacks, Moroccans and other nationalities. Estela (Ana Diaz) has just arrived from Mexico and, by a stroke of luck, lands a job alongside Pedro (Raúl Briones Carmona), who has been working here a few years. He is having a wild affair with the American waitress Julia (Mara Rooney) and wants to build a life with her in Mexico. When 800 dollars go missing from the cash register, all the employees are subjected to interrogation to find the thief. The general suspicion sets in motion a spiral of violence that ends in a ferocious brawl and total chaos.

The fast editing and the black and white photography give the film a breathlessness that corresponds with the hectic pace of the orders during rush hour at lunchtime and in the evening. Pedro is an experienced chef, but also a crazy guy who likes to provoke his colleagues and goes berserk at the slightest opportunity. His difficult relationship with the white waitress Julia doesn't exactly help to calm things down.

Ruizpalacios, who also wrote the screenplay, stages the fast-paced dialogue and constant swearing of the Mexican kitchen team as a microcosm of a migrant subculture that remains hidden from the eyes of the restaurant guests. A constant battle for self-assertion and recognition rages in a system of aggressive competition in which only brief moments of solidarity emerge.

Competition is also the central theme of Aaron Schimberg's body horror drama "A Different Man" (USA 2023). Edward (Sebastian Stan) makes a living playing bit parts because he suffers from a facial disfigurement caused by growths known as neurofibromatosis. Nonetheless, he attracts the attention of his attractive neighbour Ingrid, a young Norwegian writer (Renate Reinsve). Edward is to play the lead role in her autobiographical theatre debut, which is to be performed Off Broadway. Thanks to facial surgery, Edward regains a normal appearance and overnight becomes a successful estate agent who still dreams of a career in the theatre. But nothing comes of it, because the beautiful Norwegian woman was attracted to his monstrous looks and has no interest in his new 'normality'.

Aaron Schimberg doesn't shy away from New York clichés relating to the creative scene. Edward is an actor, going from one frustrating audition to the next. He lives in a run-down flat where it drips through the ceiling, but he continues to dream of a breakthrough on Off Broadway. Apart from the elements of body horror, this is an unsatisfying story that dissolves into arbitrariness towards the end.

There is again not much good to say about the dystopian thriller "Another End" (Italy 2024) by Italian director Piero Messina. Here, too, the setting is a modern megalopolis, and the star potential is comparable. Rarely has the Mexican Gabriel Garcia Bernal (with a military short haircut) been seen acting so pale. His wife Zoe (once again Renate Reinsve) has died in a car accident of his own fault. Trapped in his depressive grief, Sal is offered a utopian solution called "Another End" by the futuristic company Aeternum. The memories of the deceased stored in the company's database are placed in a suitable host to give the mourner the opportunity to say a final goodbye.

The mise en scène is just as confused as it reads. Garcia Bernal speaks Spanish with his sister Ebe (Bérénice Béjo) but English with Renate Reinsve. We have a feeling that we are dealing with a universal story from a technologically perverted future. An Italian director casts a Mexican leading actor and two female stars of European arthouse cinema. The result: a cinematic Europudding of the pretentious type.