“The Kitchen”: Daniel Kaluya’s poignant and politically charged debut — Toni Kan
Daniel Kaluya and Kibwe Tavares’s The Kitchen is a poignant and well-paced politically conscious debut.
Set in the fictional Kitchen, an abandoned estate bursting with squatters in a London of the future, it stars two recognizable faces from the acclaimed TV series, Top Boy.
Kane Robinson aka Kano is Izi. Audiences will recognize him as Sully, the brutal, unsmiling gangster and sidekick to Dushane from the TV series while Hope Ikpoku Jnr is Staples. Ikpoku played Aaron, the younger and studious brother of Jamie, the young upstart kingpin who meets his end at the hands of Sully in the penultimate season of Top Boy.
These two characters, Izi and Staples are at the heart of The Kitchen, as two opposing figures that take new comer and lost child, Benji played by Jedaiah Bannerman under their wings.
Benji has just lost his mother and during her funeral, he runs into Izi whom he asks whether he knew his mother “sexually.” Benji is bereaved and bereft and his search for a parent propels the movie.
Izi is a brooding, taciturn loner whose encounter with Benji up-ends his life and well-laid plans. His ambition is to earn a placement in Buena Vida, a futuristic housing complex.
But in the meantime he is stuck in The Kitchen with its overflowing denizens who are constantly on the lookout for raids by the police intent on displacing them.
Izi works in a funeral home which provides low cost funeral services for the poor. The deceased are cremated with their remains committed to an ecological park.
Explaining the need for such an impersonal farewell, Izi tells a potential customer that funeral costs are exorbitant before asking him whether he has ever been to a Nigerian funeral.
“Last one I went to lasted three weeks,” the elderly man says with a chuckle.
Inequity is at the core of The Kitchen as it riffs on the widening gulf between the have and have-nots.
Izi is caught at that intersection as a figure of transition between what one might call the old and new realities. His placement in a single occupancy apartment finally comes through but it is at an inconvenient time, weighted down as he is by the unwanted burden of caring for a child who may or may not be his.
The tension between the binaries of right and wrong is represented by Izi, the loner who wants to flee the kitchen and Staples who is divisive and headstrong playing a dystopian character who is half freedom fighter and half Robin Hood.
The Kitchen is an over-crowded ghetto where the water runs out and life is one whirl of lack and danger but it has a soul and a pulsing heartbeat, something that is missing in the wider dystopian locale.
Watching the movie, one is reminded of Attack the Block, John Boyega’s 2011 break-out film with its seemingly tranquil environment upset by the discovery of aliens.
Lord Kitchener played with verve and gravitas by former star footballer and now TV pundit, Ian Wright is the soul of the Kitchen. A modern griot and town crier, he is representative of the past and the gravitational center of the film.
Every morning the denizens wake up to his voice broadcasting from his pirate radio station: “Good Morning…you know what time it is. It’s the lord, Lord Kitchener, live and direct strong from the Kitchen on Kitchen radio.”
The music he plays provides much of the pan-Africanist soundtrack to the movie and foregrounds its political conscious vibe. There is Fela Kuti and AK. Frimpong.
But Lord Kitchener is more than an OAP of a pirate radio station. Every resistance movement needs a voice and a talisman and Lord Kitchener serves both purposes. His constant refrain – They can’t stop we! is the grundnorm for the resistance.
Lord Kitchener is also a potent symbol of the multicultural diversity of the Kitchen. The name lends itself not just to the kitchen but harks back to the coming of the HMT Empire Windrush on which had sailed a West Indian Musician called Lord Kitchener.
Lord Kitchener is famous for the Calypso influenced ditty he composed on the trip over to London and which he sang as the ship docked in Tilbury, Essex on June 21, 1948,
“London is the place for me.”
That opening line is ironic in the fraught circumstances of The Kitchen where residents are being forced to move showing that London really isn’t the place for them.
When Lord Kitchener is attacked by the “feds”, the ground seems to slip off from under the Kitchen and that becomes the inciting incident for the bloody finale.
The Kitchen is visually stunning with sweeping shots of real and CGI imagined London cityscape with the green interiors of the Life After Life funeral services shot at the famous The Barbican Center and Salters Hall in London. The movie seems to pay an unwitting homage to Brutalist architecture from the Barbican to the Damiers complex in La Defense, Paris which is the actual setting for The Kitchen.
Kaluya and Tavares deserve praise for a nuanced and politically conscious film which has expanded the corpus of dystopian films like V for Vendetta and Ninety Eighty Four all set in London.