The vitality and bonhomie that characterize many scenes in “The Kitchen,” a dystopian drama set in a near-future London, might seem at odds with the film’s focus on deprivation and persecution. Yet there’s nothing despairing about the close-knit, mostly nonwhite community that swarms and surges inside the titular public housing project, one of the last to be swallowed by private developers.
It’s an estate under siege. From the authorities, who block essential services and food deliveries, and from the police, who deploy surveillance drones and armed raids. Inside this vibrant warren of market stalls and cell-like living spaces, though, the air hums with the punchy energy of people pulling together against a common enemy. Standing alone is Izi (a fabulous Kane Robinson), a selfish striver saving for a deposit on an upscale apartment. Izi sells burial packages at a futuristic funeral home, spinning fabricated tales of personal loss to juice his commission. His plans are soon compromised when he encounters Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman), a recently orphaned mourner who proves difficult to dislodge.
In part an outcry against gentrification and the privatization of England’s once-thriving social housing, “The Kitchen” dilutes its abjection with unlikely humor and a vividly eclectic soundtrack (mostly dispensed by the community’s resident D.J., played by the former soccer star Ian Wright). The direction, by Kibwe Tavares and Daniel Kaluuya, is sure and unfussy, spinning a warmly humane story of cross-generational connection. Whenever the film threatens to slide into sentiment, the actors yank it back, with Hope Ikpoku Jr. especially effective in a too-brief turn as a wily competitor for Benji’s allegiance.
Against expectation, “The Kitchen” ends with a question mark rather than an exclamation point, having said all that it wants and not a word more than it needs.
Rated R for smashed windows and broken promises. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. Watch on Netflix.