The Critic

By Toby Martin Hughes and James Shannon | Drama
A sous-chef prepares for a food critic whose verdict may save the restaurant. But the regular chef fails to make the evening shift.

A struggling restaurant anxiously awaits the visit of an important critic, whose verdict could change its fortunes — and revive the flagging career of the owner.

But when the head chef fails to show up for his shift, it falls to the sous-chef Ana to steer the ship. Tensions mount as the owner ratchets up the pressure on the sous-chef, propelling them into a fateful confrontation.

Directing and writing duo Toby Martin Hughes and James Shannon’s short is essentially a chamber drama, a limited to one event in one place and a small, confined palette of characters. But this story’s sole location happens to be a hothouse of pressures, temper and dysfunctional power dynamics, making for particularly overt and intense drama.

Reality TV about food and restaurants often paint a picture of a workplace run by tempestuous chefs and owners, with workers scurrying underfoot as they attempt to answer to impossible demands. But with the wave of recent stories of abuse of power in industries as diverse as film, fashion and even food, this media stereotype possesses a grain of truth.

The narrative of this drama examines this power dynamic through the eyes of the sous-chef Ana, an immigrant woman who becomes the focus of the restauranteur’s anxiety and eventually rage. Because he is her boss, Ana isn’t in the position to speak out against his increasingly heated invective.

The film emphasizes the nature of its focus and intensity, with keen camerawork that registers every emotional shift and unspoken response of Ana, played by Bianca Buha, who captures the difficulty of working under increasing pressure with great precision and intelligence.

But as her boss’s behavior becomes more demeaning, he pushes Ana to the edge, and the story becomes not just a snapshot of possible abuse of power, but a David and Goliath story in which a seemingly powerless figure leans on their talent, skill and chutzpah to triumph against all odds. Watching Ana win her small triumph is both a pleasure and a beacon of hope and an object lesson in drawing boundaries — where we work may be intense and challenging, but it doesn’t mean we should ever lose touch with our innate dignity.

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