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The Secret of the Grain(2007)
When patriarch Slimane acts on his wish to open a port-side restaurant specializing in his ex-wife’s fish couscous, the extended clan’s passions and problems explode.
For more about The Secret of the Grain and the The Secret of the Grain Blu-ray release, see the The Secret of the Grain Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 15, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi, Faridah Benkhetache, Abdelhamid Aktouche, Alice Houri, Bruno Lochet
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
» See full cast & crew
The Secret of the Grain Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 15, 2010
Winner of multiple awards at the Venice Film Festival, Abdellatif Kechiche's "The Secret of the Grain" (2007) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an interview French film scholar Ludovic Cortade; interview with director Abdellatif Kechiche; excerpt from an episode of the French television series "20 heures"; interview with actress Hafsia Herzi; reedit of the final scene in the film; theatrical trailer and more. The disc also arrives with a 16-page illustrated booklet. In French, Arabic and Russian, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares) is a Tunisian immigrant who has spent most of his life working on the docks in the French port town of Sète. He is divorced but likes to spend time with his ex-wife, Souad (Bouraouia Marzouk), and their children. Whenever possible he brings them fresh fish.
Slimane lives with his lover, Latifa (Hatika Karaoui), and her daughter, Rym (Hafsia Herzi, The Source). They own a small hotel with a tiny bar not too far from the docks where African immigrants often come for a drink. Rym adores Slimane and treats him as if he is her father.
One day, Slimane is told by his boss that there is no more work at the docks – at least not for old men like him. Depressed and enormously hurt, Slimane goes back home. Later on, he collapses while making love to Latifa.
Slimane's sons and daughters suggest that it might be best for him to go back to the old country; with his severance pay Slimane can start a business and have the type of life he never had in France. Rym, however, urges Slimane to ignore his family, and remember that he has her and Latifa.
After much soul searching, Slimane decides to stay and transform his old boat into a restaurant. Most of his close friends and neighbors immediately conclude that he has gone crazy, but Rym likes his idea and vows to help him with the paperwork for the bank loan he would need to renovate the boat.
At the bank, Slimane and Rym's business plan is met with a great deal of skepticism. The bank officer quickly determines that Slimane does not have enough to use as collateral for the type of loan he needs and urges him to reconsider his plan. She also attempts to explain to Slimane that this isn't the best time to open up a restaurant, especially at the docks.
Bit instead of giving up Slimane decides to invite bank officials, city officials and local community leaders to his boat for dinner, hoping that once they taste the type of food and drinks he wants to sell, they would realize that his restaurant will be a success and give him the loan he needs. The main course will be fish with couscous and grilled peppers.
Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain, distributed internationally as Couscous, is a quiet but powerful film about immigrant life in France. It does not have a clear social agenda, but anyone familiar with modern French history should quickly detect the subtle political overtones in it.
The narrative lacks any surprising twists. The many long conversations and discussions between the different characters, for instance, are pretty straightforward, addressing dilemmas most of us have faced. What makes this film great are the quiet scenes where these characters are alone with their thoughts, as well as the ones where they try to run away from them, singing or dancing to the music of their homeland.
The cast is comprised mostly of unprofessional actors, but the majority of them are sensational. The star of the film, however, is the young French actress Hafsia Herzi, who is truly irresistible as Rym. Her exotic dance at the end of the film is pure magic.
In 2007, The Secret of the Grain won multiple awards at the Venice Film Festival, including the Young Cinema Award (Best Film Venezia 64), the Special Jury Prize, and the Marcello Mastroianni Award (Hafsia Herzi). In 2008, the film won four Cesar awards, including Best Film and Best Director.
The Secret of the Grain Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears in the booklet provided with this Blu-ray release:
"Shot on the HD Sony 900, this film was created entirely in the digital realm, without ever being output to a film element and transferred. This high-definition master was converted directly from the Digital Intermediate color space to SMPTE Rec. 709 24fps 1080p and approved by director Abdellatif Kechiche."
This is a strong high-definition transfer. Fine object detail is excellent, clarity great and contrast levels consistent. The color-scheme does not disappoint either; blues, greens, yellows, reds, browns and blacks look rich and very natural. Most of the nighttime footage looks a bit soft but also natural (some of the poorly lit scenes also reveal a bit of native digital noise). Generally speaking, the daytime footage is very impressive. Finally, while watching the film, I did not detect any specific transfer-specific anomalies to report in this review. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free SA or PS3 in order to access its content).
The Secret of the Grain Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (with portions of Arabic and Russian). For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The following text appears in the booklet provided with this Blu-ray release:
"The film features a fully digital soundtrack. The audio for this release was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD."
The French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is excellent. The bass is potent, the rear channels intelligently used and the high-frequencies not overdone. The finale, in particular, sounds terrific (on the Artificial Eye DVD release the sound quality is very disappointing). Additionally, the dialog is crisp, clean, stable and very easy to follow. Also, while viewing the film, I did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or hissings to report in this review.
The Secret of the Grain Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Abdellatif Kechiche - an interview with the French director, recorded exclusively for Criterion, in which he talks about his film, his career as a filmmaker, some of the changes he was forced to make to the film after his father passed away, etc. In French, with optional English subtitles. (13 min, 1080p).
Sueur - a reedit of the final scene in the film (a belly-dancing sequence), with an introduction by director Abdellatif Kechiche. In French, with optional English subtitles. (46 min, 1080p).
20 heures - an excerpt from an episode of the French television series 20 heures featuring interviews with director Abdellatif Kechiche, actress Hafsia Herzi, and resident of the port city of Sete, the location for The Secret of the Grain, as they celebrate the film's multiple awards at the 2008 Cesars. In French, with optional English subtitles. (8 min, 1080i).
Ludovic Cortade - French film scholar Ludovic Cortade, author of Le cinema de l'immobilite, discuses the style and message of The Secret of the Grain. In French, with optional English subtitles. (22 min, 1080p).
Hafsia Herzi - young French actress Hafsia Herzi, who plays Rym, discusses her character and the making of The Secret of the Grain. In French, with optional English subtitles. (15 min, 1080i).
Bouraouia Marzouk - an interview with French-Tunisian actress Bouraouia Marzouk who talks about her past and role in The Secret of the Grain. In French, with optional English subtitles. (12 min, 1080i).
Musicians - an interview with the musicians from The Secret of the Grain. In French, with optional English subtitles. (16 min, 1080i).
Trailer - the original theatrical trailer for the film. In French, with optional English subtitles. (3 min, 1080i).
Booklet - a 16-page illustrated booklet containing Wesley Morris' essay "No Secrets" (the author is a film critic at the Boston Globe).
The Secret of the Grain Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain is a wonderful, genuinely moving film, and it is great to see that it finally has a deserving North American release. Criterion's Blu-ray disc also has some terrific supplemental features, so make sure to go through all of them. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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