By Ashfaq Yusufzai
Disease, unclean drinking water and lack of electricity are just some of the plights affecting those displaced into camps by the military operation launched by the Pakistani army against Taliban militants. UNICEF and the World Food Program have been working to better the conditions in the camps but relief is still distant. The worst affected are children who have been suffering from scabies, diarrhea, unexplained fever and malaria.
The Secret of the Grain
A half hour into Abdel Kechiche’s Cesar winning family drama, The Secret of the Grain, my father leaned over and asked, “What is this movie about?” After all, we were still watching a family cooking, eating, and fighting. And cooking, and eating, and fighting. Writer/Director Kechiche’s domestic rhythms are very familiar and therefore easy, initially, to reject.
But I’d recommend hanging in through all two and a half (plus) hours of the film, which tells the story of Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares), a 60-year-old patriarch trying to segway into a career as a restaurateur with the help of his ex-wife’s fish cous cous. And that’s basically the basis for the story. Although his pipe dream sounds fairly simple – he owns a boat and can simply serve customers on it - government administrators don’t think he has the stamina to run his own business. Determined to prove himself, he plans a huge dinner party and invites the high-level head-shakers who remain skeptical that his floating, couscous-serving restaurant could turn a profit. His family wants to help, but so do his new girlfriend and her daughter.
Meanwhile, the huge extended family squabbles —a two-year-old grandchild won’t use the potty, a husband cheats routinely on his wife, a daughter tries to convince her mother to forget shame – but Kechiche’s wonderful eye and ear for detail make the typical seem anything but. The family, Arabs living in Southern France, works hard to maintain their distinct culture, but the movie implies rather than stresses culture clash.
At the movie’s center is Boufares, who, in his feature film debut, resembles a still, serious Steve Martin with wonderfully expressive eyes. The film is at its most effective when focusing in on his tense silence – he’s usually the calm center of a family dysfunctional in the ways all families are, but their dysfunction could risk him his career. Watching the potential crumble of his dreams is like watching the demise of your own, and the almost unbearable tension Kechiche ultimately creates is the antithesis of his atmospheric but slow start.