Couscous

Couscous

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

As much an exploration of immigration and its impact on communities and families as a tale of the internal machinations of a single clan, Abdel Kechiche covers big themes through the back door.

Slimane (Habib Boufares) is the elder statesman of a family of Tunisian immigrants. Split from his wife Rouad (Bouraouia Marzouk) and living in a room over at his lover's hotel, he nevertheless still has a role in the family, bringing home fish for the estranged missus from the docks where he works.

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The sudden announcement by his boss that he is being laid off leads the sixtysomething to reassess his life and take the drastic step of buying a beaten up old boat, with the dream of turning it in to a vibrant Tunisian restaurant specialising in the couscous of the film's title - made to the highest standard by his ex.

His extended family rally round to help spruce up the ship - most particularly the daughter of his lover Rym (Hafsia Herzi), who is as much a child of his as his own family - but as the big day nears troubles both within the family and the community begin to simmer.

Kechiche's camerawork has an in-your-face naturalism. Close ups of the family socialising - and squabbling - over couscous abound and the scripting evokes a real sense of family debate and complication. The dialogue is about as far from Hollywood as the setting, as trivial conversations tumble over more serious subjects, just as they do in real life.

This works to a point, but Kechiche occasionally takes that same sense of realism rather too far, with several scenes running on long after their dramatic purpose has been served. While in some ways this sense of being impotent and unable to escape from a situation puts the audience in the same position as some of the characters - particularly in later scenes when Slimane finds his enterprise threatened by fate - this device is over used and trimming 15 or so minutes from the runtime would certainly not go amiss.

Aside from a slight flabbiness in some areas, Kechiche is to be praised for exploring the nature of change on a personal and a community level - and packing the result with some emotional wallop. His film at once examines Slimane's sense of personal impotence, which suggests that although he is in many ways keen to embrace change, he finds it hard to be flexible enough to truly achieve it, while also touching issues of latent racism in smalltown France and suggesting that the female emigres are much more able to cope with the ebb and flow of life than their male counterparts.

Reviewed on: 16 Jun 2008
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The head of a Tunisian immigrant clan tries to realise his dream of opening a couscous restaurant.
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