By Marina Michelson | Drama
A cook trains at elite restaurant. It's her first and last day there...

Leila is on her first day in an elite restaurant kitchen. She's a "stagiaire," essentially a trainee or an unpaid intern. She's immediately thrown into a world of competitive coworkers and must endure the hazing of her coworkers and navigate the invisible fault lines of power dynamics.

Despite the intense atmosphere of the kitchen, she manages to make connections and even impress the head chef. But when she has a heated encounter with one aggressive coworker in the walk-in, she finds her new position on the line.

Written and directed by Marina Michelson (who also plays the lead role in the film), this short drama takes the hothouse atmosphere of a restaurant kitchen and uses it as a crucible to examine how power plays out in a highly hierarchical workplace.

The incisive writing captures the intense stress, fast pace and boisterous atmosphere of the food service industry, known for its highly competitive and sometimes toxic dynamic. Leila immediately walks into a few trials by fire, beginning with listening to the lead line cook, Mateo, regale the entire kitchen with a graphic discussion. When she manages to impress the head chef, Mateo turns rivalrous and tasks her with the unpleasant task of killing live shrimp.

Much of the film's appeal is its unvarnished, authentic portrayal of the milieu, where the intense pace and high stakes collide with ego and pettiness. Captured in a quick-moving, naturalistic visual style, the kitchen is a hive always in motion, but with each player always aware of their role -- and their place on the totem pole.

The film excels in capturing how one weak but preening ego can poison the atmosphere, creating a contagion of avoidant silence that tries to work past the bullies but often only serves to embolden them. In the worst-case scenario, it escalates disrespect -- something Leila encounters and pushes her to the breaking point.

That break in "Stagiaire" is dramatic, leaving viewers at the highest arch of tension. And there are few answers, for Leila and for an industry that is still reckoning with unchecked abuses of power. Offering a peek into a cloistered world full of its traditions, rituals and mores, Leila's fate in this world is uncertain -- as is the viability of the culture of compliance underlying the delectable meals and culinary art that only the public sees.

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