In Alice Winocour’s short film “Kitchen,” a woman struggles over the span of one day to bring to the table what “le mari” desires for dinner. She idly asks him during their morning ablutions what he would like for dinner and he says, “whatever you want . . . not meat in any case.”
In an attempt to please him, “la femme” brings home to this rather drab apartment and this rather drab life two shiny oil-black lobsters with pink underbellies. They are terrifying. They are alien, set out in stark contrast to the bland colour palate of the apartment and measured by the woman’s horrified and frustrated expressions framed in uncomfortable medium to close portrait shots. Their primal, thick insect-like bodies seem made to writhe and spasm, a disturbing life-filled force compared to the stagnant marriage they have scuttled into.
Dinner in this film is of course not simply dinner. It is the culmination of a relationship that has reached its tipping point. When the husband insists “not meat in any case,” he implies that perhaps married life has become a routine meat course. It forces the woman’s hand. She must struggle to find a new recipe.
As the end credits note, no lobsters were harmed in the making of this film. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some convincing violence against lobsters as the woman struggles to deal with these purchased but unwanted visitors and their valiant attempts to survive even if these are their last moments before dinner.
Winocour mirrors shots in the film to make connections between the lobsters and the couple: the opening shot of the wife in the bathtub mirrors the shot where she at the end of the film seemingly sets the lobster free, before she seals his fate.
It’s a solid film and it could reasonably end when the husband gets home. But it’s the final shot that tips this film over into the sublime. We see the woman as she struts towards the low angle, sidewalk camera and as she approaches the shot retreats, moves with her – we yield to her. She is not going to the market for meat instead of seafood. She is not getting take out pizza. She is leaving and we are going with her. Winocour makes a perfect song choice here scoring it with Madeleine Peyroux’s melancholy cover of Elliott Smith’s rock bottom “love” song “Between the Bars.”
This walk, as thrumming with intent as the lobsters’ thrusting tails, stands as both a beginning and an end and yet neither. It is an act unto itself and calls to mind other walks and runs in cinema. The title character in Zho Yu’s Train who runs after a train she cannot catch.
Lola’s running in Run Lola Run.
Even the character Carrie’s walk away from a relationship in Sex and the City.
The woman’s walk in “Kitchen,” like the walks and runs above, is an affirmation, an attempt, and a declaration. It is her only way out of the drowning drab of the apartment and the dilemma between a suffocating meat course and an impossible and traumatizing lobster feast.
Winocour has made three short films including “Kitchen,” and her first feature film, Augustine, was released last year. “Set in Belle Époque France, director Alice Winocour’s sensual, fiercely intelligent tale of female sexual awakening follows nineteen-year-old “hysteria” patient Augustine, the star of Professor Charcot’s experiments in hypnosis, as she transitions from object of study to object of desire” – TIFF
–R. W. Gray