Tunisian-born writer and director Abdellatif Kechiche has produced a brilliantly unsentimental portrait of working class life in Sète, a port town on the French Mediterranean coast.
Centred around 61 year-old Slimane Beji, Couscous explores his survival after redundancy from a shipyard job he’s held for 35 years, his extended family and his attempts to open a floating couscous restaurant.
His youngest son is loyal to his dad while besotted with his new stepsister. Another daughter remonstrates with her dad that he should fight the redundancy, citing her factory workmates’ experience of walking out on strike.
Slimane’s ex-wife Souad remains inexplicably hostile to him throughout, while delighting her many children with the couscous of the film’s title.
The film’s great strength is in these characters and their vivid depiction by a great cast. We are surely seeing the birth of a number of fine acting careers – especially that of Hafsia Herzi, who plays Slimane’s stepdaughter Rym.
Though refracted through prisms of gender, race and religion, Couscous remains a tale vibrant with the universal elements of working class family life.
Without a musical soundtrack or star cast, the film works by force of its script and camerawork, which is reminiscent of Barry Ackroyd’s work for directors such as Ken Loach and Paul Greengrass.
Look out for Couscous at a cinema near you – or when the DVD comes out.
Couscous (La graine et le mullet)
directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
film on general release