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  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars
Set in the French port of Sète, director Abdel Kechiche’s ‘Couscous’ is a rich and quietly surprising portrait of that town’s French-Tunisian community. Basically an ensemble piece, it pokes into the lives of the two extended families belonging to a separated, 60-year-old immigrant shipworker, Slimane (Habib Boufares). When unemployment hits, it is the grain and red mullet dish his estranged wife so lovingly prepares which he hopes may prove the central selling point of a new restaurant he plans to open on a reconditioned quayside barge.

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.
Written by Wally Hammond

Release Details

  • Rated:15
  • Release date:Friday 20 June 2008
  • Duration:151 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Screenwriter:Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Cast:
    • Sabrina Ouanzani
    • Leïla D'Issernio
    • Mélèze Bouzid
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