Friday, July 11, 2008

COUS COUS - LA GRAINE ET LE MULET - an elegant, authentic, heart-breaking immigrant story

COUS COUS is a justifiably critically acclaimed family drama from French-Tunisian writer-director Abdel Kechiche. His story is set in a harbour town in contemporary France and centres on an old dock-worker called Slimane. When we meet him, Slimane is being down-sized - his years of service irrelevant because they were largely off the books. Even at home, Slimane is marginalised. His ex-wife, Saouda, scorns his alimony payments (yet more mullet!) His feckless sons think he should bugger off back to Tunisia. He's a has-been - good for nothing but doting on his grandchildren. Slimane's true supports are his haughty lover and her doting daughter, Rym (a brilliant and award-winning performance from Hafsia Herzi). While his real family stand on ceremony and points of honour, these hard-working women do whatever's necessary to make Slimane's dream of running a restaurent-boat come true.

The resulting film is beautifully made. Both the acting and the photography are naturalistic and feel authentic. The complex web of emotions and relationships is essayed by allowing the viewer to watching the family having everyday conversations and arguments. In one particularly brilliant scene, we learn of the state of affairs by hearing the Greek chorus of old men gossiping rather than seeing the action directly. I love the way Abdel Kechiche takes his time to establish the characters before slowly painfully ratcheting up the tension on the night of the restaurent's grand opening. And I especially love the elegant final scenes, that resolve everything and nothing.

COUS COUS won the FIPRESCI prize and tied for the Special Jury Prize at Venice 2007. Hafsia Herzi won the Marcello MAstroianni Award. COUS COUS also won the C├ęsar for Best Director, Best Film, Best Screenplay and Most Promising Actress for Hafsia Herzi. It opened in Belgium and France at the end of 2007. It opened earlier this year in Italy, Greece, Australia, the Netherlands, and Egypt. It is currently on release in the UK, Russia and Israel. It opens on September 4th in Germany.

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