The Secret of the Grain (Arabic, French) - Review
I love films where a set of family members put aside their issues and tiffs and come together for a new beginning. Little Miss Sunshine was one such film and here’s another gem from France, The Secret of the Grain. The screenplay and dialogues are so fluid, it never seems like there was a written screenplay. The actors just understood their roles and acted them out. The riot of voices this creates, makes the characters almost become part of your living room. At 153 minutes, it seems long, but definitely recommended viewing.
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Through most of The Secret of the Grain’s 153-minute duration, you get a sense that there isn’t a director to this film. There is a cameraman, invisible somewhere, and an editor with an intuition so perfect that he cuts this film, like none other.
You, the viewer are an observer amidst the characters in the world of of the recently laid-off 61-year old Slimane’s world. A world that’s not a perfect family - Slimane is divorced. His ex-wife Souad complains about alimony payments not being on time and keeps him away from the family get-together every Sunday. His current wife Latifa and her daughter Rym love him and despite having to dodge some serious red tape in a quiet port town in France, he wants to start a restaurant on a boat. The main attraction at this new eatery: couscous, something which Souad cooks really well.
At least on paper, the storyline unfolds like a family-drama with just the right layers to keep you engrossed. But being engrossed is an understatement. Director Abdellatif Kechiche’s treatment of the script is such, that it makes you want to tear into the screen and make the characters stop howling, offer a shoulder to comfort them and at other times, even join their celebrations.
Kechiche does this by shooting the characters through tight close-ups - there’s a family get-together scene, for example, which has been shot and edited with such meticulous care and precision that the cacophony of chatter it generates is loud and real enough to make your neighbours feel you’ve got French guests in your house. Halfway through these scenes, I realised that I was smiling, not for any jokes being bandied about, but simply for the joy of being able to observe a family have a merry time together at a meal.
In several scenes, it also appears that the director is also lenient with saying ‘cut’. He lets the drama boil, the characters continue to bawl, argue and shout and as a viewer, you want him to end the scene and move on to the next one, but he doesn’t. He lets it froth a little further, until you’re holding your head in your hands, a bit awestruck at the performances and a bit disturbed with what just unfolded on screen.
The delicacy of couscous plays a crucial role in the film. Comprised of grain, fish, vegetables and sauce, it is the staple diet of the minority community that Slimane and his extended family belong to. It is it’s preparation that brings the extended family together, not just on weekends but also to work as one unit to get the new restaurant up and running. It becomes clear, that despite differences amongst people, food is therapeutic in bringing people together.
The film, for most parts looks so real and believable thanks to its performances. I must mention Hafzia Herzi, who plays Rym, Slimane’s daughter and puts in an incredible performance especially towards the end. It’s the visual highlight of the film. There’s Alice Houri, who plays Julia, a Russian married to Slimane’s philanderer son Hamid, who gives the most incredible single-take bawling performance I’ve seen. Her outburst is so long and disturbing, I thought my nerves would burst.
By thanking his father in the end credits of the film, The Secret of the Grain, seems autobiographical and one can’t help but relate Slimane to Kechiche’s own father. Habib Boufares, who plays Slimane, has a resigned look on his face throughout the film, but his determination to renovate a scrap boat and start a new business, is re-assuring, signifying that no matter how cold the war be between your present (Latifa and Rym) and past (ex-wife and family), with a little cajoling and effort, everybody comes together for fresh beginnings.
That’s a great thought to begin the New Year with, isn’t it?
Don’t miss this film. PS: Happy New Year, folks!
- Violence: None
- Language: Clean
- Nudity & Sexual content: An erotic belly-dance number
- Concept: A retired divorcee’s new restaurant brings a family together
- General Look and Feel: Pleasant, with deep close-ups
The Secret of the Grain - Trailer
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