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Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Secret of the Grain

60-year old Slimane (Habib Boufares) is an Arab immigrant living in a small port town in the south of France. Having worked at the local shipyard for 30 years he’s devastated to be laid off. He devises a plan to open up a small business – a couscous restaurant on a renovated barge. The chef will be his cranky ex-wife Souad, while his gaggle of grown-up kids will help. But the real assistant is Slimane’s step-daughter Rym (a luminous Hafsia Herzi) whose brash confidence and tenderhearted intelligence cut through all the red tape of French bureaucracy.

Tunisian writer-director Abedellatif Kechiche (Games of Love and Chance) takes his time (148 mins) to paint a rich ethnographic portrait of this large and conflicted immigrant family. There are long meandering scenes encompassing food, arguments and seemingly trivial chat. (One entire scene is devoted to the cost of disposable nappies.) Yet it’s this detail that gives the film its almost documentary power, and subverts any tendencies towards the ‘opening up a restaurant’ movie clich├ęs. Quietly building to a sudden desperate crescendo, the film’s conclusion makes new sense of everything that has gone before.

Rochelle Siemienowicz

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