I wish The Secret of the Grain had another title, something that conveys the vibrancy teeming in this great drama of daily life — something less grainy. But what makes Tunisian-born, French-raised director Abdellatif Kechiche’s movie so engrossing — his intuitive grasp ? of relationships — is exactly what’s difficult to capture, even in the original French name, ? La Graine et le Mulet. Literally, the title means The Seed and the Mullet, referring to the couscous and species of Mediterranean fish that are diet staples of Tunisian immigrants along the French coastal area of Séte, where the story is set. But it’s also the name of a specific dish that Slimane (marvelously grave Habib ? Boufares), a careworn immigrant laid off from his job as a shipyard laborer, hopes to make the centerpiece of his new restaurant.
By extension, the title embraces the richness of Kechiche’s beautiful film, which captures the rhythms of displacement and hardship, the bond of family meals, and even the daily routines of the magnificent women who are part of Slimane’s life. From his generous ? ex-wife (who still packs up meals for him to eat, alone) to his strong adult daughters, to the firebrand daughter (astonishing Hafsia Herzi) of his landlady-lover, he’s a man both cut off from his roots and supported by branches. A