Couscous (La Graine et le mulet)
- Kaleem Aftab
- 19 June 2008
Filmmaker Abdel Kechiche builds on the promise that he displayed with 2003’s L’Esquive by creating a drama similar in style and spirit to Vittorio De Sica’s 1951 neorealist fantasy Miracle in Milan. The man in need of a miracle in the present-day French seaport town of Sète is 61-year-old weary Maghrebi émigré Silmane (Habib Boufares), who has been made redundant after working for 35 years in a shipyard. Rather than retire, Slimane dreams of opening a North African restaurant. His complicated extended family, including ex-wife and numerous off-spring, all congregate at his house for fish couscous each Sunday and it’s during one such dinner, a scene which feels like it is filmed in real time, that the various characters in his life reveal their twisted feelings towards each other. The banal chatter combined with a camera that cuts and thrusts between characters as they chomp unceremoniously on their food makes this extended scene as perversely engrossing as anything in Marco Ferreri’s 1973 cult classic La Grande Bouffe. These seemingly incongruent emotions surprisingly cause major rifts once the action moves on from the immobile Sunday dinner to the itinerant attempts to open a restaurant. This depiction of Arab family life with all its attendant problems shares with comparable drama La Haine an empathy for immigrants and their struggle to be part of the patrie – with ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’ now just words in the dust of history for anyone not French and white.
GFT, Glasgow from Fri 27 Jun–Thu 3 Jul.