At the port of Sète, Mr. Slimani, a tired 60-year-old, drags himself toward a shipyard job that has become more and more difficult to cope with as the years go by. He is a divorced father ... See full summary »
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At the port of Sète, Mr. Slimani, a tired 60-year-old, drags himself toward a shipyard job that has become more and more difficult to cope with as the years go by. He is a divorced father who forces himself to stay close to his family despite the schisms and tensions that are easily sparked off and that financial difficulties make even more intense. He is going through a delicate period in his life and, recently, everything seems to make him feel useless: a failure. He wants to escape from it all and set up his own restaurant. However, it appears to be an unreachable dream given his meager, irregular salary that is not anywhere near enough to supply what he needs to realize his ambition. But he can still dream and talk about it with his family in particular. A family that gradually gives its support to this project, which comes to symbolize the means to a better life. Thanks to its ingeniousness and hard work, this dream soon becomes a reality...or almost.... Written by
Venice Film Festival
Shooting was supposed to start in the summer of 2005 but one of the leading actors was sick, which resulted in a major delay. Thus, filming actually started on 5 September 2005 and was still running by 16 January 2006. The set was on a boat in the port of Sète for at least six weeks from October to December 2006. Outside temperatures were very low, as opposed to what they should have been if schedule could have been held. This led the production to set up large tents near the boat with heating systems for the actors and extras to remain comfortable between takes. See more »
[talking to Slimane about her husband]
Is that a family man ?
Never there for his kid.
See more »
Tragicomic epic of Arab immigrant life in a French port town
Abdellatif Kechiche, who is also an actor, stands with Turkish-German director Faith Akim as the preeminent director dealing with diaspora experience in western Europe. He was born in Tunisia but was brought to France at the age of six and grew up in Nice. 'La graine et le mulet,' the title, refers to (mullet) fish couscous (grain) and Kechiche has said he's as stubborn as the mullet. The action is in the southern French port town of Sète. Most of the cast are non-actors.
Though marred by a jittery camera in intimate scenes, over-close closeups, and some sequences that are allowed to run too long, 'The Secret of the Grain' is nonetheless a triumph, an emotionally powerful, overwhelmingly rich, epic-feeling tragi-comedy that overflows with wonderful performances, evokes a host of masters including Jean Renoir and the Italian neorealists, and fairly bursts off the screen with its loving and complex portraits of Magreban society in France and the harsh world in which it struggles and survives. The main focus for all this is food: two grand meals, one intimate and familial, the other in a projected couscous restaurant on an old boat where friends and family and local officials are all invited to show off cuisine and entertainment in an effort to prove that an old man at the end of his tether can, with the help of his family and friends, make a go of it in a new business, against all odds. Kechiche and his cast focus not so much on any plot-line arc, though there are dramatic turns of events right up to the end, but on the way they work as an ensemble to make each moment come alive. In the somewhat stilted, over-polished and over-sophisticated and often dry world of French cinema, it's not hard to see how the rough, irresistible energy of the world Kechiche brings to the screen here would seem a welcome tonic. And, it has to be admitted, giving the same very gifted Arab director the run of the Césars twice can't help but be soothing to the consciences of the left-liberal intellectuals who tend to dominate the world of French film criticism. It doesn't hurt that 'Secret' is offered by Pathé and has the imprimatur of the prestigious producer Claude Berri.
Kechiche's previous (and second) film 'L'Esquive' ("The Avoidance"), retitled in English 'Games of Love and Chance' (after the 18th-century playwright Marivaux's work which is central to the plot) which won four Césars, including Best Director and Best Film, was about the young mixed population of children of immigrants who live in the ghetto-like suburban Paris 'banlieue.' This new story is a homage to the "fathers," the generation of Kechicne's parents, who immigrated to France forty or fifty years ago.
Hence the protagonist is the sad but determined Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares), who as the movie begins is told by his boss at the port shipyard workshop that, now sixty-one, he is no longer "rentable" (profitable), his work is too slow, he doesn't keep up with the schedule on projects. Threatened with no benefits because earlier in his 35 years at the site he was off the books and now offered only half-time status, he quits. He lives in a room in a little hotel run by his lover, Latifa (Hatika Karaoui), whose daughter Rhn (Hafsia Herzi) considers Slimane her own dad and defends him against his mean sons by his ex-wife Souad (Bouraouia Marzouk). He owes her alimony, but brings fish instead. The sons say he ought to go back to the 'bled,' the old country; they want to be rid of him.
Slimane's eldest son Hamid (Abdelhamid Aktouche) is married to a Russian woman. His family evidently know about his philandering and especially his affair with the deputy mayor's wife--the need to conceal which becomes a plot pivot-point.
While Slimane is alone in his little hotel room Souad has a big fish couscous dinner with their offspring and their French husbands and children. This sequence is irritating at times for its clamorous, shifting closeups and its cacophonous talk, but at the same time the way this lively, tumultuous gathering in close quarters has been shot is a tour-de-force of complex naturalism. When the sons bring Slimane a dish of the fish couscous, he gets the idea of enlisting his ex-wife to be the cook in a restaurant he might establish in an abandoned ship. Rhm goes with him to the bank and city offices to present the project where they're politely received, but not given the green light. This is where the idea comes to give a grand dinner on the ship to convince everyone Slimane and company can make a go of it. A lot of the second half of the movie consists of this dinner.
The naturalism of the sequence may be suggested by the fact that Bouraouia Marzouk actually did a lot of the cooking for 100 people for the dinner. The theft of Slimane's Moubylette is a conscious homage to De Sica's 'Bicycle Thief' ('Ladri di biciclette'). 'La graine et le mulet' is a thrilling, amusing, moving, excruciating screen experience that takes Abdellatif Kechiche to a new level of accomplishment, but the vagaries of his methods will continue to create enemies as well as admirers as he goes along. As Jacques Mandelbaum wrote in 'Le Monde,' 'The Secret of the Grain' "mixes romance and social chronicle, melodrama and comedy, the triviality of the everyday and the grandeur of tragedy. A simple family meal becomes a classic sequence, a table of old immigrants becomes a Greek chorus, a belly dance a high point of erotic vibration and dramatic tension." For all its flaws, this movie packs a huge wallop and brings Adbellatif Kechiche to the brink of greatness.
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