Tuesday, August 17, 2010
The Secret of the Grain. (2007)
What I'm trying to describe are stories in which you hang in there for a period of time -- sometimes not even knowing exactly why you've stuck with it to this point -- and something so wonderful happens in the end that you want to go back and watch it all again just to see if it's as good when you know what's coming.
There is a wonderful payoff in The Secret of the Grain. It is so totally unexpected -- it simply comes out of left field. It is exotic, too -- not necessarily erotic, but a turn-on nonetheless. But even in admitting this much, I would have no problem recommending the film to any reasonable adult. I won't give away anything more than that, other than to stress that it brings a level of fulfilled closure that is rare in cinema these days.
The story is about an old man, Slimane, the generations of his offspring, and the fact that his go-nowhere shipyard job has never provided anything drastic to alter their lives. He wants to do something that will make a difference in the financial futures of his kids, and their kids. He wants to be remembered for actually leaving them something. But now, after years of hard labor, he's still got nothing to give.
So he decides to open a restaurant. On a boat. On an abandoned old wreck of a boat that he's going to have to put a lot of work into and fix up. He has no experience in business or in understanding restaurants. He only knows that his ex-wife's couscous are delicious -- the talk of every family meal. People in his restaurant will return time and again for the couscous. Now in his mid-sixties, Slimane plunges forward into a new phase of life, informing the family, and his ex-wife, he's going to need their help. Bit by bit they reluctantly go along.
He's also going to have to go through a lot of legal red tape to get this idea afloat. His girlfriend's daughter, Rym, barely even college aged, seems to always know how to maneuver the red tape legalities. She gets the permits for zoning laws, the clean kitchen regulations, the location legalities of the boat on the dock, all of that. She begins to appear more and more until we've actually transitioned into a story about a young woman who will go to any length to help her mom's older boyfriend -- and in the end, both of their fates will be sealed by the dedication of the loved ones around them.
The film is shot dogme-style, with handheld cameras and extreme facial close-ups. The cast is a combination of professional and non-professional actors. Some of the scenes are extended so long that it feels the director is searching and searching, and he will prolong the scene until he finds whatever it is he's searching for. It is a long film, and arguments against it are that it is too long and that scenes go on forever. I didn't feel that -- not once. When I saw A Prophet, a similarly lengthy film, I did feel that from about twenty minutes in. Here, relations between the two families -- one that is traditionally North African living in Sète, and the other native to France, are filled with a dividing tension that gives layers in watching them try to realize the old man's dream together. Make no mistake -- it is a racial thing. So we have a story of two families filled with all kinds of prejudices who must work together to get this new restaurant going, and every character gets to bring a unique kind of representation to the film. Like the Corleones in The Godfather, we get a chance to clearly see them all, at least one time each, and each and every one are interesting in their respective scene.
But old man Slimane, the lovely young Rym, and Slimane's son, who is going to bring a form of unalterable destruction through his sex-addictive behavior, are three characters who stand out as clearly as any character I've seen this year. I will not only visit this again soon, I'll remember these characters forever.
And oh -- that final scene! Riveting. Pure genius. And from out of nowhere.