Published Oct 03, 2008I was surprised to find that this unassuming slice of life won a bunch of Cesar awards, including Best Picture; its not the kind of pseudo-quality thing you expect to wow the French crowds. And while its surprise crowd-pleasing qualities have you rolling your eyes on occasion, its gently two-fisted to the extent that you dont really care.
Slimane is a divorced Arab dockworker who needs to change his life. Miserable, feeling like a burden on his younger girlfriend, he decides to change his life by opening a restaurant, which will prove more confusing than imagined. But armed with his two-fisted granddaughter and the rest of his family, hes going to make a go of it.
This has certain "small picture qualities that keep it from being entirely genuine, and I wish it didnt hem itself into a kind of social realist virtue that hamstrings its friskier elements. Still, you might not notice, as the granddaughter is one hell of a character (and a performance) and the push-pull of old immigrant versus dominant culture is better delineated than most.
The pride in this film is impossible to ignore, as is its sympathy. The ending is a head-scratcher though, and certain narrative lines get a trifle forced, but for all of its conventions it is enough on its own side to put you squarely on that side of the line as well.
The Secret of the Grain is perhaps not worth lionizing but certainly worth seeing, knowing and thinking happy thoughts. (Mongrel Media)