Couscous - Abdel Kechiche interview
The secret of the grain
‘With Couscous, which is set in the southern French port city of Sète, I wanted to represent a social milieu, which I knew very well because I’d grown up there, and which hasn’t been represented on screen before. I think that when you make a film about a world you know very well and that you love and care about, that is communicated in the film, and other people are able to identify with what they’re seeing.
‘I also wanted to create a family on-screen that was based on my own family. I wanted to concentrate on the figure of the father Slimane [played by Habib Boufares], who is made redundant from his job in the shipyards, and who decides to set up a couscous restaurant on a disused ship in the harbour. Slimane stands for my father and all those men of that generation who left their country of origin and who went somewhere else in order to work, so that the generations after them would have a better life. I wanted to portray a man who would represent the heroic dimensions of what these people did.
‘The cast for Couscous is a mixture of professional and non-professional actors. I chose them because I thought they could identify with the characters. The choice of an actor is crucial – a false note even in a small role can trip the whole thing up. The rehearsal time with the actors is for me the foundation of the film. It’s important that everyone gets to know one another. I also bring the crew into the rehearsals, so that the barriers can come down and people can trust each other.
‘I’m not surprised that Couscous has been such a big success in France. There was so much energy and life amongst the people making it that I knew it wouldn’t pass unnoticed, even if it is two and a half hours long and it doesn’t have any major stars in it. For me French cinema leaves out whole swathes of the population.’
Couscous, GFT, Glasgow from Fri 27–Thu 3 Jul.