In 2007, the French-Tunisian film "La graine et le mulet" (translation - "The Grain and the Mulet") from the award-winning director Abdellatif Kechiche would become an award winning film and would also introduce the world to a young actress named Hafsia Herzi.
The film would win "Best French Film", "Best Director", "Best Original Screenplay" and "Most Promising Actress" at the 2008 Cesar Awards, "Best Director" at the 2007 Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival and would also win an award for "Special Jury Prize", "Marcello Mastrioianni Price" (for actor actress in a debut role for Hafsia Herzi, "Signis Award" and a nomination for the "Golden Lion" Award at the 2007 Film Festival.
The English title for the award-winning film, "The Secret of the Grain", will now be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection.
"The Secret of the Grain" is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1:85:1 and shot digitally via a HD Sony 900. According to the Criterion Collection, the high-definition master was converted directly from the Digital Intermediate color space to SMPTE Rec. 709 24fps 1080p and approved by director Abdellatif Kechiche.
This film sports amazing detail. The colors are vibrant and contrast and blacks are consistent through the film. Closeup shots look fantastic as you can see the skin pores especially the tears flowing down the face of Rym. I was very pleased with the colors and overall picture quality of this film. The outdoor scenes were just beautiful and really showcasing plenty of colors while the nighttime scenes did have some noise but overall, I was quite pleased with the film and its PQ.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"The Secret of the Grain" is presented in French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. According to the Criterion Collection, the audio for this release was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.
Dialogue is clear and understandable, good amount of surround usage during a few scenes sporting crowd ambiance and a few scenes featuring bulldozers and claws ripping out metal fixtures in the shipyard but for the most part, this is a dialogue-driven film in which I detected no audio problems whatsoever.
Subtitles are in English.
"The Secret of the Grain - THE CRITERION COLLECTION #527' comes with the following special features:
* Abdellatif Kechiche - (12:48) An interview with director Abdellatif Kechiche from March 2010. Kechiche talks about the film's inspiration, the story, choosing a filming location, the belly dance scene, working with the various talents in the film, using a handheld camera and more.
* Sueur - (45:10) Featuring a re-edit of the belly-dancing scene (the complete scene of Herzi dancing, singing and the crowd getting into it) including an optional introduction by the director Kechiche (1:40).
* 20 Heures - (7:51) An excerpt from the French TV series "20 heures" featuring an interview with director Abdellatif Kechiche, actress Hafsia Herzi and discussion about the film winning four awards at the 2008 Cesars.
* Ludovic Cortade - (21:08) Film scholar Ludovic Cortade talks about the style and the message from "The Secret of the Grain".
* Hafsia Herzi - (14:41) Actress Hafsia Herzi talks about auditioning for the character Rym, how she felt that she had to give it her all as this was her first major acting role, gaining weight for the film and then her feelings when she won an award at the Cesars and Venice Film Festival.
* Bouraouia Marzouk - (11:02) An interview with actress Bouraouia Marzouk who talks about how she became an actress, the various roles she had done and her role in "The Secret of the Grain".
* Musicians - (15:17) Interviews with the musicians of "The Secret of the Grain" and how they got the opportunity to take part in the film not only as a musician but as an actor.
* Trailer - (2:11) The original theatrical trailer for "La Graine et le Mulet" (The Secret of the Grain).
* 16- Page Booklet- Featuring an essay titled "No Secrets" by Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morri and production credits.
When it comes to film that seem realistic by nature, verbose as if we are watching conversations with a perfect flow and for the most part, realism and conversation on the big screen done right, I'm a big supporter of those films.
Eric Rohmer's 1969 film "My Night at Maud's" is a perfect example of how it's done right. It may have been too intelligent for some but I found it fascinating, real and for each time I see films that are championed by many viewers as films that showcase "realism", I can't help but raise an eyebrow to skepticism and the feeling of wanting a film to prove to me they can do it effectively.
"The Secret of the Grain" is one of those films that does it with near-efficacy.
The film showcases a French-Tunisian family. There is no didactic approach, if anything, with such scenes as the family eating couscous and you are engaged in the conversation, you are treated like one who is sitting at the table alongside the family.
As you hear a couple discussing the use of Arab in their home, what words we learned, to genuine moments of when someone shows up or if someone is in a bad mood, you literally forget that you are in a movie and sometimes think you are actually watching a digital video of a family get-together.
We also learn about the identity of Arabs in French society and how have some carried on their culture's tradition and some who don't through this dinner. But even in certain scenes as Slimane tries to get a loan or even when the local businesses are sitting at the restaurant and we see how their attitude is towards Slimane and bringing their culture and food to the area. Although subtle, we do sense the racism that permeates society towards the Arabs in French society.
Director Abdel Kichiche manages to capture this setting quite perfectly with a handheld camera as we see the emotions on the faces of these characters and it's done so well.
But then the film leaves the family and returns back to the main character Slimane. An older man who lives away from his ex-wife and family and now lives in a hotel with his girlfriend and her daughter that looks up to him like a father. Slimane loves his family, despite being a man who tries to not get wrapped up with their personal affairs and typically the old fashioned father who worked for a living to support the family. His facial expressions rarely change but this is where his girlfriend's daughter Rym (played by Hafsia Herzi) just shines.
To think that Hafsia Herzi has no theatrical background, she was a teenager from Marseilles who dreamed of becoming an actress, lied in her audition that she loves Eastern dancing and gets the role of a lifetime. But what is amazing is that Kichiche has discovered a rare starlet that is able to convey genuine emotions of an angsty and emotional teenager magnificently. She gained the weight, her belly dancing scene was challenging but she pulled it off.
The character of Rym loves Slimane like a father and is disgusted by his son's who want him to move out to the country. She knows he is not talkative and so, she does all the talking during the business meetings. She gets the ball rolling for him and is a rare breed of a teenager being an adult. From her conversations with Slimane's friends (who are musicians) to the conversations to Slimane and her mother Latifa of what ticks her off, you can't believe this is acting from a newcomer with no acting experience. Herzi was fantastic in this role and is deserving of her Cesar and Venice Film Festival awards.
I can easily go on and on about how I enjoyed the realistic approach, the pacing of the film and also the vibrancy of the colors but I will caution the viewer that the final minute of the film may leave some people feeling content or disenchanted. I've read many reviews of people who loved the film but the ending was too abrupt and shocking for them. Many who felt it was an appropriate ending and I can say that I watched many French films let alone other films from foreign countries to not be shocked by last minute endings that come from nowhere.
In the case of "The Secret of the Grain", the ending doesn't come from nowhere but you sense that what happens is a possibility. But at the same time, depending on your optimism or negativity will help determine how one feels about the overall film.
"The Secret of the Grain" is a film that takes "realism" to a different level and you can easily sympathize with the characters. I've watched many films with many dinners and conversations and aside from Louis Malle's 1981 film "My Dinner with Andre", "The Secret of the Grain" is just so effective that you feel comfortable, you feel that the emotions are genuine and in the end, you feel fortunate that you had a chance to experience such a wonderful film.
The performance from its ensemble cast is well done. I'm not sure how much of it was scripted versus how much of it was improvised but somehow, director Abdellatif Kechiche was able to bring out the best in his talent. First time or not, the overall flow of these characters was well-done!
I know there are some people who may polemicize the portrayals of Arabs in the film. The fact that the director doesn't focus too much on the culture and traditional/cultural garb but wanting to bridge his Arab culture with French culture and showcase universal themes. I felt that film scholar Ludovic Cortade did an excellent job in touching upon these issues through his featurette and really dissecting the film and the meaning of the film's title in 20 minutes.
If anything, there is nothing I can say negative about this film but if I had to get nitpicky, it would have to be the film's duration at 154 minutes and the length of certain scenes. Some may feel that the final 20 minutes could have been trimmed and edited but I believe the intention of the filmmaker was to keep the viewer engrossed...nearly impatient as the people who are at the restaurant waiting for their couscous, the same can be said for the viewer. Especially to see how things dramatically change for Slimane and his family members. But I was not looking at my clock to see how much time has elapsed, so that's a good thing.
If anything, I felt that the director made a wise choice of what he included in the final cut of the film especially now knowing how the re-edit of the final scene (included in the special features) could have have been.
Overall, the Blu-ray release of the film is fantastic as you get a great sense of what director Abdellatif Kechiche was trying to accomplish but also to learn more about the cast, especially the talents Hafsia Herzi and Bouraouia Marzouk. The Criterion Collection really did a fantastic job with this release and it's a very well-done Blu-ray release.
"The Secret of the Grain (La Graine et le Mulet) - THE CRITERION COLLECTION #527' is highly recommended!