The Secret Of The Grain


Directed by: Abdel Kechiche
Written by:Abdel Kechiche
Starring: Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi, Farida Benkhetache, Abdelhamid Aktouche, Bouraouia Marzouk
Released: April 3, 2008
Grade: B+

I can remember when I started reviewing movies (back in 1996), that you’d only see a handful of foreign language movies released each year.  Times have changed.  The Palace Centro Cinemas at New Farm recently hosted the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival.  38 French films were screened over 10 days.  Many of these screenings were sold out.

If you weren’t able to make it along, don’t worry.  A few of the movies that screened will be receiving a wider release over the coming weeks.  The first cab off the rank is The Secret Of The Grain.

For those who see a lot of French movies, you might be in for a surprise with this one.  It’s very long (151 minutes), centres on an Arab family living in France and features a bunch of non-professional actors with no prior experience.  You’re probably asking yourself – why is being released?  The reason is because it is a good film and has been well reviewed across the globe.  It won the Cesar Award for best film (the French equivalent of the Oscars) and was singled out for a special jury prize at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.

It’s the story of a 60-year-old named Slimane (Boufares) who is not happy with the way his life has turned out.  He’s worked his entire life at the shipyards but has slowly found himself made redundant.  There just isn’t as much work as there used to be.  He’s worried that he won’t be able to provide for his family in the long-run and that he has been a disappointment to them up until now.

Slimane is a quiet man who keeps to himself.  He does what people ask of him with minimal fuss and without ever complaining.  It’s a terrific performance from Habib Boufares who has never appeared in a movie before.  I respected him but felt sorry for him at the same time.  He’s just an ordinary man living an ordinary life.  I really wanted things to get better for him.

After decades of working for others, Slimane decides to roll the dice and take a chance.  He uses all his savings to buy an old, rundown boat.  He wants to give it a complete refurbishment and turn it into a floating restaurant.  His family are 100% behind him and will do whatever it takes to help him out.  All their efforts go into a huge opening gala night where some influential people have been invited.  It’s an event which could make or break him.

As I’ve already indicated, this is an unusual film.  I can see it annoying some viewers.  For example, there’s a scene which goes for about 10 minutes where the whole family sits around the dining table and share a huge luncheon feast.  They just talk about their lives and what’s been happening.  Whilst the film does tend to drag at times (particularly the ending), I liked this approach.  You get a true sense of what the family is like.  It’s as if I was watching a documentary.

I don’t know who to recommend this film to and I think it will struggle at the Australian box-office.  Still, there’s not a lot of great stuff out at the moment and this is better than most movies currently screening.