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Cherchez les femmes

By PETER KEOUGH  |  July 1, 2008

But just when you’re about to give up on the future of men making films in France, there comes Abdel Kechiche’s LA GRAINE ET LE MULET|THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN (July 27 at 12:40 pm). I must confess I was ready to bail on this after about a half-hour of its drawn-out, naturalistic scenes of strident family squabbles and nagging women. I’m glad I persisted, because the seemingly aimless miseries of its hardscrabble cast of Arab immigrants coalesce into a dark and hilarious vision of human absurdity.

After getting laid off from his job at the shipyard and being faced with the dissolution of his extended family, Slimane (Habib Boufares) tries to turn things around by turning a derelict boat into a floating restaurant. At first the plan goes well, despite money problems and resistance from the snooty city bureaucracy. Everyone pitches in, from Rym (Hafsia Herzi), the resourceful daughter of Slimane’s girlfriend Latifa (Hatika Karaoui), to Souad (Bouraouïa Marzouk), Slimane’s ex-wife, who cooks a mean fish couscous. What results, however, is like Big Night by way of the myth of Sisyphus, and with Buster Keaton from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum tossed in. A sublimely orchestrated catastrophe, in other words, but you keep expecting the women will save the day.

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