Length: 151 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 27 October 2008
Cat No: ART386DVD
Screen ratio 1:1.78
Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital
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Also available on Blu-ray
French ensemble piece focussing on the lives of an immigrant community in the south of France. Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares) is a... Read More
It is difficult to think of a film released this year which has received as many 5 star reviews as Couscous (La Graine et le Mulet), yet the film only received a limited release in UK cinemas, depriving many of the chance to see this wonderful drama. It focuses on a North African family living in Sète, a French coastal town on the Mediterranean, where the newly unemployed paterfamilias Slimane attempts to open a couscous restaurant with his severance pay. His former wife and family agree to help in the venture, to the chagrin of his current partner.
This may sound like the plot of a schmaltzy family drama in which estranged relatives put aside their differences to ensure a triumphant success for the underdog, yet Couscous is far more complex and realistic (although not pessimistic).
Tunisian filmmaker Abdel Kechiche wisely allows some scenes to run on for lengthy takes, recalling the best work of Mike Leigh. An early lunchtime sequence sets up family dynamics which come to the fore at the film’s close, whilst the conversations about trivial matters such as potty training or how to pronounce certain Arabic word beautifully establish character.
Although the lugubrious father is nominally the film’s protagonist, it is the women in his life who are the driving force, and the actresses flesh out some of the most interesting characters of the year. Best of all is young Hafsia Herzi as the impassioned stepdaughter, who adores her marginalised substitute father and puts in the most effort to his business venture. The scenes where she accompanies Slimane to numerous meetings with reluctant bank managers and officials to obtain funding are a tour-de-force, as is her final party trick.
Fans of Almodóvar will recognise similar themes, but Kechiche develops a style that is entirely his own. Using improvisation and cinéma vérité techniques, he injects the narrative with a vital humanity; every character here is entirely believable. The film deservedly won four awards at Venice and four major French Césars.