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Couscous mit Fisch (The Secret of the Grain, La Graine et le Mulet)
France 2007

Opening 28 Aug 2008

Directed by: Abdel Kechiche
Writing credits: Abdel Kechiche
Principal actors: Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi, Farida Benkhetache, Abdelhamid Aktouche, Bouraouïa Marzouk

Director Abedellatif Kechiche, a French immigrant from northern Africa, portrays an extended family in a film which could reflect much of his own real-life experience. Sixty-year-old Slimare lives in Sète in southern France with his second wife and her daughter Rym. He loses his job at the wharf and dreams of owning a restaurant on a boat. Living nearby are also his ex-wife Souad, various sons, daughters, their spouses and children. For almost two hours the hand-held camera is in their faces as they meet for dinner, discuss brands of diapers, have jealous fits, make plans and generally act like any normal family of low-income, first- and second-generation immigrants, or any other family for that matter.

This film creeps slowly and in the end we still don’t know if the restaurant enterprise is successful. Still, one reason to stick to your seat is the excellent acting of newcomer Hafsia Herzi who plays Rym. She supports and encourages Slimane, even taking up slack during dinner in a show-stopping belly dance (which goes on and on and on: patience is the word). The question is: did I care about this family? Obviously, many cinema lovers did because it won the French Oscar (called César) for best film, directing, script and supporting actress (Herzi). Kechiche’s work has been compared to that of Hamburg’s Fatih Akin and together they won the Karl Prize for European integration. At the least we can add this to a long list of films about food and all that it entails: washing, cooking, eating, spitting, chewing, and talking. (Becky Tan)

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