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Sunday, June 3, 2012

La Graine Et Le Mulet (aka Secret Of The Grain) (2007)

After being laid off from a shipping yard in a small French port, a 61 year old Arab immigrant (Habib Boufares) uses his severance pay to buy a boat. His ambition to open a restaurant on the boat with his ex-wife's (Bouraouia Marzouk) recipes. This critically acclaimed film (winner of four Cesar awards including best picture and director) borders on greatness and it's infuriating that it's so close but doesn't quite make it. The director Abdellatif Kechiche directs at a leisurely pace (the film runs a little over 2 1/2 hours) which allows character development for its large ensemble cast and there's even a Greek chorus of sorts, a group of older Arab men hanging at a cafe who fill in the blanks. Even though the film is essentially a melodrama about a splintered, multi generational and interracial Arab family, the film's last hour is as intense as any thriller. As the film's intensity builds to an almost unbearable climax, in either a very brave or very foolish decision, Kechiche simply ends the film leaving the fate of its characters hanging in the balance and the audience either applauding its audacity or hissing at being cheated of finding out what happens. There's only one real complaint from me and that's having one dimwit too many among its characters. Stupidity isn't a very attractive quality outside of comedy. The large ensemble cast is superb but I have to single out the beguiling Hafsia Herzi as the daughter of Boufares's mistress (Hatika Karaoui) and Alice Houri as Boufare's Russian daughter in law who gives a fierce performance.

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