The vitality and good-naturedness that characterize many scenes in “The Kitchen,” a dystopian drama set in near-future London, may seem at odds with the film’s emphasis on deprivation and persecution. Yet there is nothing forlorn about the tight-knit, mostly non-white community that swarms and surges inside the titular public housing project, one of the last to be gobbled up by private developers.
It is an area under siege. Authorities, who block essential services and food deliveries, and police, who deploy surveillance drones and armed raids. Inside this bustling maze of market stalls and cell-like living spaces, the air buzzes with the impactful energy of people uniting against a common enemy. Alone is Izi (a fabulous Kane Robinson), an egoist who is saving up for a deposit on a high-end apartment. Izi sells funeral packages at a futuristic funeral home, telling fabricated stories about personal losses to make his commission profitable. His plans are soon compromised when he meets Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman), a recently orphaned Weeper who proves difficult to dislodge.
Partly an outcry against gentrification and privatization of England’s once-thriving social housing“The Kitchen” dilutes its abjection with improbable humor and a very eclectic soundtrack (mainly provided by the community’s resident DJ, played by former football star Ian Wright). The direction, by Kibwe Tavares and Daniel Kaluuya, is safe and unpretentious, telling a warm and human story of intergenerational connections. Whenever the film threatens to descend into sentiment, the actors pull it back, with Hope Ikpoku Jr. being particularly effective in an all-too-brief turn as a cunning competitor for Benji’s allegiance.
Against all odds, “The Kitchen” ends with a question mark rather than an exclamation point, having said everything it wants and not a word more than it needs to.
Rated R for broken windows and broken promises. Duration: 1 hour 47 minutes. Watch on Netflix.