The Secret of the Grain

Abdel Kechine is an actor (Sorry, Haters) as well as a writer-director (Blame It on Voltaire, Games of Love and Chance), so one naturally focuses on his movies' fluid ensemble work. But this 151-minute French drama, his third and most accomplished feature, is even more impressive for its subtle, dexterous storytelling. The first half uses casual conversation to build a rich family portrait, as an aging Arab fisherman (Habib Boufares) loses his full-time gig at a shipyard and commiserates with his grown children and his girlfriend over what to do next. He decides to open a Middle Eastern restaurant and organizes a gala dinner to attract investors, yet these developments arrive not as italicized plot points but as casual remarks in loosely improvised dialogue scenes. Given the languid pace, I was hardly prepared for the cold-sweat suspense of the last act, as latent conflicts erupt into complications that threaten to sink the high-stakes dinner party. In French with subtitles.

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