The Kitchen will be available for streaming on Netflix soon. This review is based on a screening at the 2023 BFI London Film Festival.
Dystopia in the Near Future
Some dystopias envision fantastical futures with only a hint of the present societal malaise. Films like The Hunger Games, Brazil, and Idiocracy explore contemporary issues through extreme flights of fancy. However, Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Taveres’ The Kitchen takes a different approach, presenting a nightmare that feels just moments away.
Set in a speculative near future, The Kitchen focuses on a vast London estate that resists destruction, despite the UK’s ban on social housing. The residents of The Kitchen have formed a close-knit community led by Lord Kitchener (Ian Wright), a former footballer and broadcast personality. Together, they support and protect each other, creating a lively marketplace reminiscent of Blade Runner and Brixton Market. In contrast, the rest of the city is desolate and lacking personality, consisting of charmless skyscrapers and an inhuman atmosphere.
Izi (Kane Robinson), a resident of The Kitchen, works at a futuristic funeral home in the city’s center. This funeral home transforms the remains of the poor into soil for plants. Izi manipulates potential clients into purchasing additional services, guilt-tripping them into not burdening their offspring even after death. While the film briefly touches on the nightmare of being too poor to afford a proper burial, its focus lies in The Kitchen itself and how the community finds strength to endure.
Izi serves as a compelling antihero, often referring to The Kitchen as a “shithole” despite his residency there. He acknowledges the lack of basic amenities and frequent police brutality, but his colleague Jase reminds him that the struggles are external. When Izi encounters a teenager named Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman) at the funeral home, they form an unlikely bond, leading Benji to become a resident of The Kitchen. Benji is also embraced by a local gang of bike-riding activists committed to protecting their home.
A Clear and Present Danger
The Kitchen’s vision of the future doesn’t focus on technological advancements. Instead, it creates a striking portrait of a clear and present danger. The film brilliantly captures the dark parallel of the community’s warning system to celebrate first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the police raid their homes, the residents hastily barricade themselves. Despite the brutal reality, they maintain their belief in the community’s strength, as Lord Kitchener assures them, “We doesn’t become I.”
The film’s political statement is clear but avoids being didactic. It centers around the evolving relationship between Izi and Benji, punctuated by kinetic action sequences where The Kitchen’s residents strike back against their oppressors. The boundaries between crime and law enforcement are blurred, with heists becoming acts of heroism and “justice” revealing itself as violence perpetuated by the privileged few. The film visualizes the reductive notions of “Britishness” through symbols like a single Saint George’s flag and surveillance drones. The Kitchen challenges the audience’s preconceived notions of London’s charm, as depicted in other films like Richard Curtis’ works and Bridget Jones.
The Kitchen delivers its political message without being overly didactic.
What sets The Kitchen apart is its ability to be both impressive and enjoyable. The dialogue is concise and frequently hilarious. Despite the taciturn nature of the lead character, Kane Robinson brings his lines to life, and even mundane conversations between Izi and Benji are captivating. The film’s aesthetic is also a treat, with the vibrant flats framed as brutalist portraits and the parties illuminating Black skin in enchanting jewel tones, reminiscent of Moonlight and City of God.
A Powerful Tale
The dynamics built within the film’s 98-minute runtime are as formidable as The Kitchen itself. The evolving relationship between Izi and Benji is delicate and reminiscent of films like Kramer vs. Kramer and Paper Moon. However, their bond and The Kitchen’s world cannot exist in isolation. Invading forces threaten their existence, and while battles may be won, the war remains insurmountable. The film ends on a challenging note, reminding the audience of the human cost of this dystopia and how it mirrors the harsh reality faced by many around the world.