Couscous (La Graine et le Mulet) (15)

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The Independent Culture

If you crossed Ken Loach with Robert Guédiguian, added a pinch of wry comedy and handed it to a thoroughly committed ensemble of actors, the result would be something like Couscous.

Habib Boufares plays Slimane, a reticent dock worker in a southern French port who's unhappily divided between two families – the grown-up children who live with his former wife, and the younger woman who runs the hotel where he resides. Another conflict chafes within him: between his French identity and his Maghrebi roots.

His fortunes look up when his beloved stepdaughter, Rym (Hafsia Herzi), helps him to establish a restaurant on a rustbucket boat, but the tensions stirring between his various relatives threaten to boil over on opening night. Writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche handles a heavy subject with an expertly light touch, and directs ensemble scenes with an unaffected naturalism that reaches towards genius. You hardly notice the two hours-plus running time, so slyly and deftly have these actors involved us in their drama.