In the rustic port of Sète in south eastern France, 60-year-old Slimane (Habib Boufares) has worked in the same shipyard job for over 35 years, when his growing dissatisfaction prompts him to try to open his own restaurant. His dream seems unbelievable, but his contagious conviction and persistence work their way into the hearts of his loyal but dispersed family.
I have to confess that I’ve never wanted to open a floating couscous restaurant in France – but after The Secret of The Grain I know exactly how to go about it if I change my mind.
Slimane Beji is a 61-year-old wharf worker who suddenly finds himself out of work. Realising he’s never made anything of himself, he spends his severance pay on an old ship. With the help of his couscous-cooking ex-wife, the daughter of his new lover, and his squabbling sons and daughters, Slimane tries to make his boat restaurant dreams a reality.
The Secret Of The Grain shows every – and I mean every – aspect of this process. We sit in on meetings with the bank and the health department. We watch the restoration of the boat and follow the extensive food preparation as the womenfolk make the fish couscous for 100 guests. Finally we see how Slimane’s big night goes wrong and how he and his family try to avert disaster.
The Secret Of The Grain is terrifically acted. And it paints a convincing picture of a French-Arabic community trying to avoid being marginalised by racism and economic rationalism. But the movie is undermined by Slimane. He’s a cadaverous, unsmiling sort it’s hard to feel much for.
More problematic is that this 150-minute movie seems to have been made without an editor. Every sequence drags on long after the point has been made. So we get largely irrelevant sequences with minor characters and hear their drawn out conversations about the economics of nappies and the effect of the evil eye.
After exhausting our patience with so much that’s unnecessary, the ending is exasperating and unsatisfying.
As a movie to make you appreciate the genius of instant couscous, The Secret Of The Grain rates two stars and is now in staggered release.