Walter Iuzzolino’s series on Channel 4 – Walter Presents – selects the most popular, critically acclaimed television dramas from around the world, allowing anyone with a laptop and Wi-Fi in Britain to falsely feel like they are cultured through watching handpicked shows (such as Spain’s Locked Up to Belgian black-comedy thriller The Out-Laws) for free on Channel 4’s streaming service All 4.
Each week Sinead McCausland will be reviewing a new show that the titular Walter has selected, hopefully encouraging more fans of world drama TV shows that aren’t American. Here are her thoughts on Kabul Kitchen.
Kabul Kitchen – a French comedy set in 2005 in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul – begins its first series with images from 9/11, providing a quick dummies’ guide to what happened – except this time, it’s not from an American perspective. The following birds-eye-view shot that quickly pans down and zooms in on Jacky’s (Gilbert Melki) titular restaurant emphasises where the comedy’s creators want to take the audience, as we are immediately immersed into the world and lifestyle of Jacky and his extended family.
This personal perspective is the stance Kabul Kitchen takes throughout the series, with the show ensuring the characters’ worldview is what remains at the centre. With the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan – and inspired and created by French journalist Marc Victor’s time in Afghanistan as a restaurant runner for French expatriates there – it would be easy for the show to become completely political and stray from the personal. In doing this, it would most likely alienate audiences due to a lack of familiarity – and it seems the show’s creators (Victor, Allan Mauduit, and Jean-Patrick Benes) are aware of this.
Instead, Kabul Kitchen explores these political events through individual characters, their problems, and how they try to solve them. Examples include Jacky’s conflict when he fears he has cancer but does not want to go to an Afghanistan hospital; the restaurant getting UN blacklisted after a rocket strikes Kabul; and Jacky’s involvement with a drug lord in order to gain profits. Add to this the arrival of Jacky’s estranged daughter – they have not seen each other in thirteen years – Sophie, who spends the beginning of series one attempting to open a girls’ school for the community, it’s clear Kabul Kitchen mixes the political and personal together well – and still remains a comedy. The comic scenes within the show are mainly through the dialogue between the characters, however there’s a lot of visual comedy within the show too. For example, in one scene Jacky and his co-worker are discussing money – with the scene set up to establish the fact that this characters’ main motivation at this point is money – and, as Jacky puts his money in his safe and closes it, covering the safe is a picture of children and the words ‘they are our wealth’. Kabul Kitchen is a self-aware show, not afraid to make fun of its Borat-like dictators and over-the-top, delightful characters.
Finally, the visuals of Kabul Kitchen show Afghanistan in a fun and interesting new way; the initial beauty and mystery surrounding the world outside Jacky’s restaurant is introduced to us in the opening episode through Sophie’s point-of-view. Yet, as the series develops and becomes more complex, so does the cinematography and humour.