With the Oscars just a few weeks away, this might be a good time to look at a film that swept the Cesars, the French version of the Oscars, taking best picture as well as writing and directing honors for Abdellatif Kechiche. "The Secret of the Grain" has a lot on its mind. Intense and realistic, equally involved with personal stories and social issues, it takes us inside a slice of France we rarely see and makes our time there hard to shake off. Though we later meet other strata of society, "Grain" focuses on a community of immigrants from Tunisia (the filmmaker's birthplace) and their families, people who have intermarried and consider themselves French even though the French don't always return the favor. The film takes place in the Mediterranean port of Sete, and from its opening scenes we're made aware of decline, of a fishing town where fishing is not the flourishing activity it once was, where the local economy is stagnating and everyone is feeling the pressure. But though societal issues are a key aspect of the film, it is first and foremost a family story, a tale of how one man's circle tries to cope with stresses that are at once personal, cultural and political, anxieties that have complicated causes and no easy answers. Best-picture themes for sure.
-- Kenneth Turan