Alice Houri (left) and Bouraouïa Marzouk deliver a Secret worth hearing.
THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN (Abdellatif Kechiche). 151 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (October 3). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNNN
Abdellatif Kechiche's warm and inviting portrait of a man and his restaurant is a hearty feast of gender politics, generational conflict, cultural metaphors and kettle-whistling family drama, all served with the same affection as the couscous at the film's centre.
Set in the Arab-Franco community of Sète (a coastal city in Southern France), The Secret Of The Grain follows Slimane (stone-faced Habib Boufares), the aging and recently unemployed patriarch of two families who doesn't quite feel like the man of either house.
The film casually eavesdrops on intimate squabbles that have a realistic, lived-in quality, as Slimane's ex-wife, obnoxious adult children and hotel-owning lover won't let him get a word in. But Slimane finds consolation in his role as a pseudo-stepfather to Rym, a teenager played by the captivating Hafsia Herzi.
Rym embodies a delicate balance of childlike innocence and blossoming sensuality. With her support, Slimane makes a last-ditch effort to renovate a scrapyard boat into a floating shoreline couscous restaurant, an exhilarating venture to say the least.
Harvesting impeccable performances from an ensemble cast, with Herzi standing out, Kechiche makes sure they all get more than their share of screen time, no matter how small certain family members might make them feel. It's an open display of Kechiche's love for his characters, and it's downright contagious.