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aka - Graine Et Le Mulet, La
France 2007
Directed by
Abdellatif Kechiche
151 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Secret Of The Grain

Slimane (Habib Boufares) a North African immigrant who has worked at the French port of Sete for 35 years is laid off. Although divorced he retains close ties with his family of four adult children and ex-wife Souad (Bouraouïa Marzouk), an excellent cook of fish couscous. Slimane decides he wants to open a couscous restaurant on an abandoned boat, nd sets about pursuing his dream. He is helped through the bureaucratic red tape by Rym (Hafsia Herzi), the daughter of his lover, Latifa (Hatika Karaoui).

Strongly reminiscent of the films of Robert Guediguian which are usually set in the nearby Meditteranean  port town of Marseilles, Scent of The Grain similarly looks at the lives of working class people struggling to deal with changing economic conditions and difficult personal circumstances and does so with great empathy, creating a rich weave of relationships of which the laconic Slimane is the still centre.

The film works very well as a portrait of Sete’s North African migrant community with its spread of first-wave immigrants like Slimane, who came from Tunisia, in the late ‘50s and early 60’s, their French-born children and now, young grandchildren. Tunisian-born writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche invests a lot of time in depicting its mores and manners. This is done with a naturalism that feels largely unscripted and included one remarkable scene in which Slimane’s daughter-in-law (Alice Houri) expresses her pain over her womanizing husband, Slimane’s eldest son, Majid (Sami Zitouni),

Some may with justice feel that Kechiche holds his scenes too long, even Rym’s spontaneous erotically-charged belly-dance, but this is arguably a matter of aesthetic preference. More questionable is the way in which Kechiche smooths over the realities of Slimane’s situation as remarkably the latter transforms a rusting hulk into a fully operational restaurant to which inexplicably the town’s movers and shakers come for a gala dinner.

Even more problematic is the film’s ending in which Kechiche simply leaves his narrative unresolved as Majid disappears with the town’s deputy-mayor’s wife (or maybe someone else, I wasn’t sure) triggering what may be a fiasco for Slimane or maybe not. Sometimes a suspended ending is justified in a life-goes-on kind of way but here it feels, to pun somewhat, under-cooked with too many questions left unanswered particularly when Kechiche has lingered so long on scenes which could have spared the time.  

Despite this, Secret of The Grain has charm and heart aplenty and anyone who enjoys films in the realist tradition won’t be disappointed.




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