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Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Produced in 2007
Main Language - French with English subtitles
Abdelhamid Aktouche, Alice Houri, Bouraouia Marzouk, Farida Benkhetache, Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi
Alex Davidson enjoys Abdel Kechiche's intriguing family drama.
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.
Alex Davidson on 7th October 2008
Author of 238 reviews
A richly-characterised and affectionate film that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Mister Beiji, a weary sixty years old, is still grinding it out at the shipyard, in a job that has become more painful as the years have worn on. A divorced head of family, he desperately tries to remain close to his loved-ones, a task made the more difficult because of family break-ups and seething tensions which seem to be about to erupt, and which financial difficulties only exacerbate. In this delicate part of his life, it seems like everything contributes to his feeling of uselessness.
He has carried the weight of what he sees as his failure for a long time and his only thought is to overcome it by founding his own business - a restaurant. But it isn't going to be easy. His income is insufficient and irregular, and falls far short of what he'll need to realize his ambition. That doesn't keep him from dreaming about it, talking about it, mostly to his family. That family is, little by little, drawn together around the plan, which has for one and all taken on the symbolic value of a quest for a better life. Thanks to their can-do attitude and all their hard work, the dream will come true. Well, almost...
Publisher: Artificial Eye
Length: 151 mins
Aspect ratio: Widescreen
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 27th October 2008
Cat No: ART386DVD
Subtitles: Subtitles (English)
- Interview with Abdellatif Kechiche.