The special quality of ‘Couscous’ doesn’t lie in its story – it’s the kind of film where you wish for less story rather than more – but in how well it manages to immerse us in the lives of this relatively isolated microcosm. It provides a series of scenes that genuinely sparkle with life and spontaneity – notably a delightful, talky family lunch presided over by Slimane’s wife, where cinematographer Lubomir Bakchev’s mainly hand-held camera fast pans from close-up to close-up, beautifully capturing emotions on the wing.
The performances, too, developed in extensive workshops, are superb, with two standouts. The first is Boufares, who is particularly touching and impressive as a prideful man coping in his own way with dislocation, disappointment and redundancy. The other is Hafsia Herzi as his ‘adopted’ daughter, whose bolder, more street-wise manner belies an equal, if different, second-generation immigrant’s vulnerability to the problems of cultural assimilation.
Finally, Kechiche is very successful at placing a gnawing tension at the heart of his film – not least the discomforting doubt over whether this reticent, flawed but deeply sympathetic old guy will succeed – even if he proves less adept at resolving it. The ending – to this writer’s mind – is dramatically and artistically misjudged, but, nevertheless, it remains a remarkable and thought-provoking work.