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The Secret of the Grain 

Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche (Mongrel Media)

Most of the action in French family-and-food drama The Secret of the Grain (La graine et le mulet) stems from one man's ballsy decision. Forced out of the shipyard job he's held for 30-plus years, 60-year-old Slimane (Habib Boufares), the taciturn patriarch of a large, close-knit, dysfunctional French-Tunisian extended family, embarks upon a new career as the owner of a couscous restaurant housed in a renovated boat. We never see the moment when Slimane decides to change his life. One minute, he's quietly despairing over his lessening shipyard hours and a paltry severance package; the next, he's launching headfirst into the bureaucratic mess of loan inquiries, permits and schmoozing. Writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche doesn't waste time with schlocky "I'll build a restaurant on this ramshackle boat, and leave a legacy for my beloved family!" speeches, because he doesn't need to; the film's subtle, naturalistic dialogue economically establishes plot, and conveys character, setting and mood. TSOTG is a hefty, 154 minutes long, but little feels extraneous. Time is put towards building a world where characters feel like people---judgmental, flawed and well-meaning, capable of prideful selfishness, generosity and kindness alike.

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Vol 27, No 39
February 20, 2020

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