Cous Cous – La Graine et le Mulet (2007)

Slimane’s step-daughter Rym (Hafsia Herzi) entertains the guests at the opening of his new cous cous restaurant.

In one way this film is amazing. It transports you into someone else’s life – in this case SIimane (Habib Boufares) a 60-year-old Tunisian immigrant in France. It does such a good job that you actually feel these are real people that you are around – not just actors. You’ll experience moments of drama, high emotion, boredom, voyeurism and even everyday moments where you just feel part of the family. Some of this is due to the way the film is shot – with the camera often pointing directly at people’s faces capturing every emotion and expression and in general just moving about all over the place. It might be imitating a sudden head movement to watch a new character enter the room or just focussing on the expression on the face of an onlooker – exactly as your eyes would in real life.

Slimane who has recently been laid-off from his job at the shipyard decides to open a cous cous restaurant with his ex-wife as cook (she makes damn good cous cous – you are left in little doubt about this at an earlier family meal which can only be described as food porn). However Slimane’s new lover (Hatika Karaoui) is understandably not pleased at this sleight to her cooking skills and also by his apparent lack of loyalty and this inevitably this leads to tension and arguments. But if only this was all Slimane had to worry about…

Another boon about the film is the way that Slimane – although in no doubt the central character – is left out of many scenes as the director takes what might otherwise be background characters and brings them to the foreground. Out of the films I have seen recently this is the one that most mirrors real life in that all the characters are fully rounded and not just depicted as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters. These are for the most part good kind people but they are still gossipy, sly, temperamental, disloyal or sulky depending on circumstance.

Negatives  – it’s just like real life so it’s not overly dramatic and at almost 3 hours long it does naturally drag in a couple of places. There’s also a scene at the end where Slimane keeps doing something stupid (I’m avoiding spoilers by not being specific) in a situation where a normal person would have said “f*ck it!” and given up almost immediately. This is the one place where the story isn’t realistic and it’s a blot on an otherwise very believable narrative.

Great acting, great camerawork and a great film 8/10

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