Berlin (Reuters) – Director Alonso Ruizpalacios dug deep into his past to make “La Cocina”, a frenetic look at the lives, loves, and chaos surrounding the migrants who work in a restaurant on New York City’s Times Square.

The Mexican-US drama, one of 20 films competing for the festival’s Golden Bear top prize, was, he said, designed to show the fate of migrants, who, far from reaching a promised land after long and perilous journeys, often continued to live in a state of suspension.

The film documents, in a washed-out black-and-white that makes sumptuous delicacies look like ash, the story of a single midday service.

A 10-minute shot, filmed over a week, tracks the intricate dance of cooks and servers, Mexican, Moroccan, Ecuadorian, and even American, as, laughing and rowing in a dozen languages, they turn chaos into lunch.

“When I was a student, I worked in a Rainforest Cafe place, which is a very un-food-porn restaurant,” Ruizpalacios said. “I was more drawn to that, the collective experience… a band of brothers, but as soon as the rush starts, it’s everyone for himself.”

The staff work magic, but live in deep insecurity, with the threat of deportation hanging over them—a weakness the restaurant shamelessly exploits.

“I saw in it an opportunity to portray the loneliness of the migrant,” said Anna Diaz, who portrayed 19-year-old Estela, a cook newly arrived from Mexico, blinking back tears.

“I get like this because my mother left her country years ago and is living in a country where she doesn’t know the language.”

Insecurity breeds bravado and toxic masculinity as the disenfranchised workers strive to assert any form of control they have via stolen kisses with co-workers they alternately idolize and belittle.

For Raul Briones Carmona, the testosterone-fueled role of Pedro, a prodigal cook with little emotional control, was the first they had played since transitioning to non-binary.

“For the first time I was faced with the construction of a man, Pedro, who ends up in a catastrophe and a tragedy for not stopping himself, simply to say ‘I’m sad, I need to go home, perhaps I should stop and get out of that kitchen’.”

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; editing by Diane Craft)