Not all of the movies Criterion picks for its collection can be masterpieces, which is represented by 'The Secret of the Grain.' All the elements are there to take us on a dramatic, emotional roller-coaster ride of tears and sorrow, but director Abdel Kechiche drags out the movie and its conversations far too long. Kechiche is in desperate need of an editorial intervention here as characters ramble on and on and on about, well, not much. When movies feature this type of long, drawn-out narration I like to quote Alan Tudyk in 'Knocked Up,' when his character is trying his hardest to tell Alison to cut the fat without actually saying it:
"We didn't say lose weight... I might say tighten, Don't make everything smaller, I don't wanna generalize that way... tighter."
If Kechiche would have just tightened it up a bit, 'The Secret of the Grain,' would have had a better flow, would have been able to keep the attention of its audience, and would have made its climax and resolution a hundred times more endearing, thoughtful, and poignant.
Slimane Beiji is a poor Arab migrant worker living in France who has just been laid off from his job at the docks where he restores old ships. He has a large family, but isn't around much to see them because he and his estranged ex-wife don't get along well. His two sons Majid and Riadh are lazy. Majid is in trouble with his wife because she knows he's been sleeping around. Problem is, Majid's family doesn't care and puts most of the blame that Majid sleeps around on his wife.
Slimane lives in a hotel and has a relationship with its owner. The owner's daughter Rym latches onto Slimane like he was her own father and builds a relationship with him that lasts. She helps him secure funding for his dream of owning a restaurant on a boat, which he does with his severance he got from being laid off. His family comes together to help Slimane achieve his dreams. His ex-wife makes the most amazing couscous (where the grain part of the title comes into play) and she helps make the food for an opening banquet.
Slimane is one of those guys that the world just steps on over and over until they're finally done with it all. His stoic face never lets on how disappointed he continually is with himself, his kids, and his future. Instead he stays steadfast, which is admirable, but his lack of emotion makes it hard to feel for him.
Much of the movie is made up of family conversations as members stuff their faces with food. If you have an aversion to watching people eat, up close, this is not the movie for you. Here is where Kechiche could have used someone to tell him 'let's cut this down, make it more palatable.' I know the effect he's going for here – real-life – but following the conversations is tough especially when much of the conversation doesn't have much to do with anything. If Kechiche would have cut down on the rambling dialogue, 'The Secret of the Grain' would have been a much more rewarding experience. The problem is that once the climax of the story is taking place, and once all the characters are faced with their life-changing choices, it's hard to really care because you've just spent the last two hours mired down in an overly-long film that fails to capture your attention..
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Secret of the Grain' comes to the Criterion Collection (spine #527) on one region A locked, 50GB Blu-ray disc. Along with the disc and the identifiable clear Criterion keepcase, you'll get a 13-page booklet with a featured essay from Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris.
According to the booklet accompanying the disc, the entire film was shot digitally with HD cameras. This 1080p transfer was created straight from the digital source and was never "output to a film element." Having come from a digital source the film is pristinely clean looking. No source noise, no artifacts, no anomolies. This is a fantastic looking Blu-ray. Fine detail is just about the best you can get, from rust flaking off of old ships to the crevasses and crags of Slimane's face, the detail here is just striking.
Colors are crisp and wonderful to look at. From the grays, blacks, and reds of the expansive shipyards, to the more muted earth tones of the family's apartments, the colors here are enjoyable and add so much more to the storytelling. Blacks are infinitely deep and delineation is right on. Night scenes, especially the last scene where Slimane is running, are some of the most revealing scenes of the entire movie. Overall, this is another amazing video presentation from the people at Criterion. Fans of the collection and of the movie will be ecstatic while watching this.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio presentation is just as stunning as the video. Even though the film is very, very talky, the soundfield is brought to life with Arabian music, crowded restaurants, and a moving soundtrack.
Dialogue is never muffled. It's always very clear and intelligible through the center channel. Even as many of the characters talk over each other during their drawn out conversations it's easy to pick each character's voice out. Directionality works well as voices move within the front three channels depending on where the character is in relation to the camera. As the focus shifts so do the voices. It's very subtle, but adds to the feeling that you could be sitting right there at the dinner table having the exact same listening experience. LFE isn't needed for much of the movie. I noticed that my sub woofer, having not been used for a while turned itself on stand-by until bass was involved in the last few scenes of the movie. This isn't a knock on the presentation itself, the film just isn't in need of bass until the end scene.
This isn't a soundtrack that's going to blow you off your couch, but I assume you know what you should be expecting when you're sitting down to watch the movie 'The Secret of the Grain.' It reproduces the French and Arabic spoken by the actors cleanly and perfectly. Since that's the focus of the film, this presentation is a success.
All of the special features are entirely or mostly in French. Optional English subtitles are available for all of them. While all of the features are in HD only three of them are presented in full 1080p. The ones with 1080p include "Abdellatif Kechiche," "Sueur," and "Ludovic Cortade." The rest of the features are presented in 1080i.
I realize I'm in the minority here, but 'The Secret of the Grain' seems too jumbled and thrown together to make a moving family drama. I understand the intended effect of the director – making it look like a real family with real problems – to be almost documentary like, but it never grabbed me like 'Everlasting Moments' did. It was hard to feel for this family, all they did was bicker while their father stood in the background and watched. Even when tragedy strikes, it was far too late for me to care at all what happened to them. Fortunately the video and audio are high Criterion quality. For those of you that are fans of this film, and I know there are many, you will really enjoy this presentation.