“Burnt”

In this restaurant film when lovely blue thistles are displayed London-side, we are ready for a prickly chef; but, two-starred Michelin winner Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is known for sending out porcupine quills. With his bad-boy eye glints, Cooper can play an arrogant prick and so can Matthew Rhys, his co-star. The “Hell’s Kitchen” kind of abuse with the screaming, throwing and demands for control and perfection is much of the film, for sure. But there are surprises. Sy Omar’s cayenned palm being the most memorable. In fact, the supporting cast is what makes this film work. Uma Thurmond as charmed lesbian food critic, Emma Thompson as uncharmed therapist, Daniel Bruhl as besotted owner and maitre’d all bring the hum of life to the food scene.

This testosterone kitchen where “good” means “not good enough”is the Langham. We get the twelve-tone scale as background music as we see scrupulous dishes prepared,plated and delivered. Saliva flows and forks are lined-up,water glasses filled and wine paired. A spot on a glass, a fingerprint on a platter’s edge will keep the goal of a third Michelin star at bay. Sienna Miller plays the talented sous chef,Helene. Her single-mother status and pluck contribute a romantic and familiar interest. How else to change the narcissist! Writer Steven Knight has written some good lines especially for Reece ( Matthew Rhys). He books a reservation under his priest’s name so he can give the last rights.

Cooper makes us care about his second redemption: we have endured his penance of shucking one million oysters already. We get the drugs, the womanizing, the alley fights, the ” would-you-work-for-me-for-nothing” arrogance; the releasing of rats on the completion, not so much so. His Parisian badness still earns him the knives of his mentor Jon-Luc and the forgiveness of Jon-Luc’s daughter. Director John Wells gives us a well-made date movie while not tasting anything new. I’d say “yes,chef” to this one for a slice-of-life savor. There is strength in needing others probably can not be said enough times. No bodies were found floating in the Thames,or sighs at the movie’s end.

“Samba”

Stevie Wonders’ 1972  song “To Know You is To Love You” serves as a proverbial rainbow overarching the new Omar Sy film “Samba”. The creative writing and directing team of “Intouchable” fame, Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano, have done for undocumented workers what they did for quadriplegics in their earlier French film. Both groups are masterfully de-labelled, made infinitely more human,and therefore,more lovable. Old-school song lyrics enhance this film’s take on illegal immigration in France.”To know you is to love you/But to know me is not the way you see/Baby,to know you is to love you…is to see you being free as the wind.”

Samba,who lives with his card-holding uncle,is free to work many “under-the-table-jobs”:dish and high-window washer,asphalt spreader,trash sorter and security guard.But after ten years and an advancement to prep chef,Samba’s illegal status stops his progress. An advocacy center with its many female volunteers and interns is one major setting,the detention center another.

We see frustrated language-misfits and party scenes of hope. Everyone is working assiduously to send money “back home”,for as Samba opines:”People count on me!” When a court hearing rules OLFT or deportation status for Samba,we want to learn more about immigration law,and France’s case by case, mystery-shrouded choices.Samba uses his charm and humor as a survival skill.

Yet,for all the world-citizen feel,”Samba” is a realistic romance of sorts between volunteer Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Samba Cisse (Omar Sy). Samba, a Senegali, has been working in France for a decade.Alice has had a breakdown, a divorce, and is a fifteen year corporate “burn-out”.She has trouble sleeping without pills.Samba has trouble not calmly smiling. Add Samba’s detention-found friend, Wilson,played show-stoppingly by Tahar Rahim and delight is in the air,literally.

The film begins wonderfully at an up-scale wedding with samba music. Everyone is dancing. We have gold Art Deco embossed cake tiers,white, feathered palm trees, confetti and a camera roll through chefs and sou chefs to waiters and platers, ending with the clean-up crew and the dishwashers. There is nothing muted about the structure of inequity. Kitchen workers are treated well,taking smoking breaks in the alleyway, and foil wrapping wedding leavings for the taking. The film’s story arc is choppy just like the lives it portrays. We go back and forth between Alice and her friends and Samba and his. Jonah,who is Congolese provides a character test for Samba. One the French award-winning Sy shows remorse for failing.

There are lots of allusions to boundaries.”I feel like I am going off the rails” and “I crossed the line”. Samba early on tells Alice that he has had a lot of help over the years,but that she is different: no law student,no piercings,not over eight-five. Alice shares that she has thrown cell phones and pulled another’s hair out, been in therapy, petted horses and done watercolors to calm her craziness. Samba’s uncle refers to Alice as “the depressive”. We root for the joyful Samba to provide balance and that they get “a house by the lake and everything they need”.

Enjoy the roof-top chases,the lime-basil macaroons,the lucky T-shirt and the pinky ring removal,the faulty shower and the dancing.My favorite line was when Wilson,really Walid, an Arab pretending to be Brazilian says no to pine kernels in his tea. “You will blow my cover!” becomes the cry of the 25,000 pending deportations targeted every year.