French language film “Kitchen Brigade” is a sweet and charming story about second chances. It’s also a piece of entertainment with a weighty social message about illegal migrants, and director / co-writer Louis-Julien Petit stretches his agenda so far that it often comes across as forced. Despite its contrived political statement, the film still works as a result of a solid story, a likeable cast of characters, and a kindhearted sensibility that’s cozy and comfortable.
After quitting her job working as a sous-chef for a celebrity cook, Cathy (Audrey Lamy) dreams of opening her own restaurant where she can do things her way. Out of money, she reluctantly accepts a job running the cafeteria at a shelter for teenage migrants. She’s in charge of a run-down kitchen and must make food that will make hungry young men happy, and it’s not going well. Cathy hates her job at first, but she quickly learns that she can provide a valuable life skill (and get help with the food preparation) by teaching the residents to cook. By taking the time to become a mentor in the kitchen, she changes lives.
It’s a sweet, satisfying story that’s wrapped in kindness. Parts of the film are predictable, but there are enough surprises to keep things fresh and different. Petit finds a nice balance between entertainment and social commentary, making a serious message seem fun.
The cast (including Yannick Kalombo, Chantal Neuwirth, Amadou Bah, and François Cluzet) is charismatic, led by an amiable performance by Lamy. The characters are underdogs that are easy to cheer for, especially when they work so diligently to become legal citizens of France after escaping poverty and hardships in their former countries. The film’s biggest strength is that it gives a humanity to migrant kids that society can be so quick to dismiss, even if the messaging is a bit heavy handed.
Although the finale is mostly as expected, it’s somehow still surprising and unique (if conventional), ending with a lovely selfless act of kindness and care that never diminishes the substantial themes. Both pleasant and thoughtful, “Kitchen Brigade” will leave you with the warm fuzzies.
By: Louisa Moore