There’s no “secret” — of cooking, of love, of financial success — in Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain, though there is indeed plenty of grain. Though it’s also played under the simpler name of “Couscous,” the film is actually called The Grain and the Mullet in French — the latter half of the title denoting the fish and not the novelty haircut. Maybe none of these quite captures the film, which in its length and dozen-or-so characters is itself difficult to succinctly summarize, but the original title does at least point to fish and couscous, the celebrated signature dish of the now fractured Beiji family. Each Sunday, Souab, the family matriarch, still serves up her legendary couscous for her children and grandchildren, even as, by the docks across town, her divorced husband Slimane awaits a delivery of leftovers in the Hotel d’Orient where he now lives.
Indeed, if there ever were any secrets amongst the Beijis, a large and eclectic Franco-Arabic family living in the port city of Sete in the south of France, they were exposed long ago. The siblings’ financial difficulties and harmful infidelities are known to all the members of the family, even if they’re not subjects of discussion at Sunday lunch. And though he’s partly estranged and out of sight, Slimane seems nothing if not resigned to his many apparent troubles.
Click here to read the rest of Leo Goldsmith’s review of The Secret of the Grain.