Secret of the Grain
Photos and Video
The grain is couscous and the recipe is the secret in Abdellatif Kechiche's warm and expansive family drama, set in a community of first- and second-generation Maghrebi immigrants in a depressed port town in the south of France. Allowing his story to unfold at a leisurely pace, Tunisian-born Kechiche (Games of Love and Chance) envelops the audience in the internecine squabbles of an extended family for whom food provides more than sustenance. When 61-year-old Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares) is laid off after 35 years at the shipyard, he decides to use his severance pay to buy a rundown boat that will house a restaurant to serve his ex-wife's beloved fish couscous. By his side in this venture is his current girlfriend's daughter, Rym (Hafsia Herzi), who helps him navigate the government bureaucracy and subtle prejudices that stand in his way, and on opening night his children and boardinghouse compatriots rally to his aid. Played out primarily with nonprofessional actors who have been encouraged to improvise, Kechiche's film reminds us of earlier landmark films from the south of France, including Jean Renoir's 1934 film Toni, that often overlooked precursor of Italian neorealism; and the expressively voluble characters of Marcel Pagnol's Fanny trilogy, whose lives were similarly centered on the family table and the café. Cinematographer Lubomir Bakchev's camera darts vérité-style from one face to another to keep up with the chatter, while Boufares' quiet performance balances those of the volatile women around him. Now that Kechiche has won France's top César honors for two films in a row, we may be forgiven for dreaming that he perhaps represents a future path for a French cinema-at once naturalistic, multiculural, and shorn of pretense.
Director's Statement Collapse
I began with a popular fantasy, the kind of story they like to tell about in the projects, the myth of those who ‘made it,’ or in other words, those who escaped the modern slavery of a nowhere career path by starting their own businesses. And I wanted to treat it with a certain irony, unbridle the story in the way you can with a narrative tale. So this is an adventure story, one where the narration is closer to that of a tale, with all the digressions, suspensions, etc. that implies, rather than an action film per se.
He is old, poor, and Arab, and he wants to create something big in order to regain his dignity and help his loved ones get a leg up. Even as I confined myself to concentrating and maintaining interest in this central action, which because of its euphoric and symbolic value was very important to me, paradoxically, I allowed the parentheses to freely pile up, like so many escapades justified by the simple pleasure of contemplating the events in the daily life of a family drama.
In the end, that is the dimension which interests me most. It's about getting close to these characters who are my loved ones, in order to show little things from everyday life. That's why I had to adopt a singular narrative rhythm. Generally, an ongoing action doesn't allow you to stay on one thing too long, but a real family meal or the beginnings of an emotion showing through on someone's face needs screen time to happen.
This marriage between a novelistic dimension and the accurate portrayal of the characters and their environment is crucial to me, in part because I belong to the milieu described and so I am emotionally invested in it. But more importantly, it is a reaction to the still all-too-frequently broad and schematic portraits, I wanted to show all the complexities of this Franco-Arabic family, all of them deeply involved in the opening of this family restaurant, and therefore looking to a future which does not necessarily mean the denial of their own identity. It seemed important to me to make a frank and energetic plea for the right to be different, without falling into the trap of the blithe and approximate stigma inherent in exoticism. A fine line to walk, and an essential one, which I believe I am particularly predisposed to because of my own emotionally invested point of view.
Film Information Collapse
[GRAIN] | 2007 | 151 | Narrative Feature
Foreign Title: (La graine et le mulet)
Premiere: New York
Cast & Credits Collapse
Principal Cast Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi, Faridah Benkhetache, Abdelhamid Aktouche, Bouraoula Marzouk, Alice Houri
Screenwriter Abdellatif Kechiche
Adaptation Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalya Lacroix
Producer Claude Berri
Editors Ghalya Lacroix, Camille Toubkis
Director of Photography Lubomir Bakchev
About the Director(s)Collapse
Abdellatif Kechiche (b. Tunis, Tunisia) has achieved the remarkable feat of being awarded three of France's top films prizes-the Césars for best film, best director, and best original screenplay-twice in four years. In 2008, he won for The Secret of the Grain, and in 2005 for Games of Love and Chance. Secret also won the Prix Louis Delluc. His debut film, Blame It on Voltaire, was named best debut film at the Venice Film Festival. Kechiche has also worked as an actor, appearing opposite Robin Wright Penn in Sorry, Haters (2005) and in Business (1992), a Tunisian film by Nouri Bouzid, whose Making Of won two of the top prizes at Tribeca last year.