food in the arts



Couscous (La Graine Et Le Mulet)/
154 minutes, Germany/France (2007)



art and food

literature and food

music and food

photography and food

french cuisine

Abdel Kechiche's third feature is an ensemble film about food, family, failure and friction within France's community of North African émigrés

Take the grain away from fish couscous and you are left with nothing to absorb the acidity of the mullet or the spiciness of the sauce. A similar principle is at work in Abdellatif Kechiche's film. All the ingredients seem to be in place for a predictable ensemble recipe where everything will come together harmoniously in the end - only for the director to leave us impatient and slavering, like the protagonist's drunken dinner guests in the final scenes, for a perfect dish that may never arrive. In other words, he make us hungry for wishful fantasy, while slyly serving up something with all the frustrations, disappointments and un-savouriness of real life, so that we simultaneously are invited to dream up a happy conclusion while witnessing a tragic catastrophe that tastes very bitter indeed.

In a memorable image from
Couscous, we see the 61-year-old Slimane (Boufares) running in circles, getting nowhere except out of breath, as he pursues a trio of taunting youths who have just stolen his moped at a moment when his future employment depends on it.

This allusion to Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948) reinforces the film's neo-realist tone and working class setting, while the scene's hellish circularity encapsulates the Sisyphean predicament of a man who has been forced into early retirement with little to show for his 35 years of shipyard labouring but a paltry severance package and declining health. Slimane, it seems, has always been running in circles.

Despite his humiliation and emasculation, the downtrodden patriarch still dreams of restoring his own dignity and creating something of value to leave behind for his extended family - and so he decides (off camera) to start up his own couscous business on an old boat that he will refurbish himself.

Once again Slimane must face a vicious circle of French officiousness, prejudice and exclusion, and he ends up staking all his last hopes in a lavish dinner party designed to attract investors. At this point his ex-wife Souad (Marzouk), his many children, in-laws, co-workers and friends, his landlady/lover Latifa (Karaoui) and especially Latifa's daughter Rym (Herzi) all pitch in to make the perfect night for the man they love - until, whether by illogical happenstance or the workings of the evil eye, everything begins to unravel.


middle-eastern food 

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