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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.
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Abdel Kechiche's tragicomedy is a film of contradictions and contrasts. It is both quiet and boisterous, with a script that is both understated and energetic, and which explores (among other things) how communities both accept immigrants, and yet remain suspicious of them.
Couscous follows sixty-something Slimane Beiji, a Tunisian-French shipyard worker in the French port town of Sète, played with reserved dignity by Habib Boufares. Despite being divorced, Slimane still spends a lot of time with his ex-wife and their extended family. The rest of his time is spent with his girlfriend and her daughter, who own a quayside hotel.
When Slimane is laid off, it comes as the last straw in a life that has become increasingly redundant. Left with nothing to lose, he hits upon the idea of opening a restaurant on an old boat. The project becomes a focal point for Slimane's extended family: his sons lend a hand with the boat's renovation; his girlfriend's daughter helps acquiring the necessary bank loans and official documents; and his ex-wife will cook the restaurants signature dish the eponymous couscous.
The restaurant works as a symbol of the hopes and dreams of immigrants how all they want is to integrate and work in their new community, whilst still retaining the culture and customs of their homeland. But it also signifies the duality of a community's attitude toward immigrants. During a party thrown to promote Slimane's restaurant, the guests all compliment their host and try their hand at a little Arabic; and yet, when Slimane's back is turned, they whisper amongst themselves that "he's not from around here." But Couscous really shines in its extended scenes of dialogue. At several points during the film we join Slimane and his family as they sit in kitchens or dining rooms and do nothing but talk. And it is a joy to watch. The script shows an eye for authentic dialogue, meandering through topics as diverse as racism in the workplace, the extortionate price of nappies, and using Arabic in the bedroom. The genuine performances from the supporting cast draw us further into these scenes, and the cinematography keeps us there. The camera squeezes between family members, getting the kind of intimate close-ups that give a real impression of a loud family dinner.
This light-hearted attitude, present in the early scenes, contrasts with a grimmer final third, in which situations get progressively worse. And as things get worse, family relationships start to break down.
This also reveals the film's ultimate irony. Slimane's family is a close-knit unit when the members each live separate lives. But when the restaurant brings them together, family unity dissolves and they resort to serious bickering.
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