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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

 

The Secret of the Grain aka Couscous [Blu-ray]

 

(Abdel Kechiche, 2007)

 

   

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Pathé Renn Productions

Video: Criterion Collection - Spine # 527 vs. Artificial Eye - Region 2 - PAL

 

Disc:

Region: 'A'-locked (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:34:32.221  / 2:27:49 (4% PAL speedup)

Disc Size: 49,222,887,159 bytes / 7.25 GB

Feature Size: 32,983,873,536 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.44 Mbps

Chapters: 25

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: July 27th, 2010  DVD Release Date: Oct 27th, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio French/Arabic 3484 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3484 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

French / Arabic (Dolby Digital 2.0), French / Arabic (Dolby Digital 5.1)

 

Subtitles (both):

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

• New video interview with Kechiche (12:46 in HD!)
• Sueur, Kechiche’s extended reedit of the climactic belly-dancing sequence, featuring a new video introduction by the director (45:10 in HD!)
• New video interview with film scholar Ludovic Cortade (21:09 in HD!)
• Excerpt from a 20 heures television interview with Kechiche and actress Hafsia Herzi (7:51 in HD!)
• Video interviews with Herzi (14:41), actress Bouraouïa Marzouk (11:02), and the film’s musicians (15:17) - all in HD!
• Theatrical trailer (2:17 in HD!)
• 16-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film critic Wesley Morris

 

Edition Details:
• Interview with Abdellatif Kechice (4:3) 23:51
• Trailer 2:07
• AE trailers

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: The winner of four César awards, including best picture and director, Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain is a stirring drama about the daily joys and struggles of a bustling French-Arab family. It has the texture of a documentary but a classic, almost Shakespearean structure: when patriarch Slimane acts on his wish to open a portside restaurant specializing in his ex-wife’s couscous and fish, the extended clan’s passions and problems explode, leading to an engrossing, suspenseful climax. With sensitivity and grit, The Secret of the Grain celebrates the role food plays in family life and gets to the core of contemporary immigrant experience.

 

 

The Film:

You don't know you want to be at a movie where a dozen French Arabs sit around and have an early Sunday dinner until you're seated at the table with them, listening to their stories, seeing them argue, watching them eat couscous and fish. But in "The Secret of the Grain," three minutes after that meal is underway I wanted someone to pass me a plate. Such is the hold Abdel Kech-iche's thrilling family drama has.

That dinner scene and its asides (the diaper talk is epic, too) last for what feels like a fifth of the movie, and the richness holds up for the rest of the film. "The Secret of the Grain" takes one man, his children, their spouses and babies, his ex-wife, his girlfriend, her daughter, and his friends and turns it all into a masterpiece about the strange power of food - to heal, unite, exasperate.

[...]

This final sequence in "Secret of the Grain" is an astounding act of storytelling, in which the delicately constructed or seemingly throwaway details we've seen over the course of the film return, lifting the entire enterprise into tragicomedy. Watching one character prepare to cook an 11th-hour meal, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. It's a finale that makes you anticipate the horror, embarrassment, and recriminations of the morning after as much as you fear them. The final shot is a masterstroke that settles nothing. Kechiche doesn't just ascend a mountain; he jumps off a cliff and leaves you in a state of cognitive dissonance. Your heart is broken, but, amazingly, your pulse is through the roof.

Excerpt from Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe located HERE

 


Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
 

The Secret of the Grain looks very impressive on Blu-ray. The hand-held camera is quite jittery for many sequences but the less kinetic moments create impressionable bonding with the characters and show incredible detail in close-ups (of which there are plenty). It is advertised as "High-definition digital master, approved by director Abdellatif Kechiche". I really can find no dominant flaws - there was some very minor noise but the grain is an even sheen across the frame. It is not glossy and the image shows some textured grit. Technically this is dual-layered and appears competent in every aspect of the video transfer showcasing consistent visuals with decent color representation and healthy contrast. It looks exceptionally strong overall and I felt it as a fabulous representation of how it looked at the many festivals that it played. Criterion continue to do what they do best...

 

Solid SD-DVD image from Artificial Eye - only a step or two behind the Criterion - it's a shade flatter but colors are well represented. The larger that this is projected - the more the Blu-ray will appear tighter, better depth etc.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Big thanks to Per-Olof Strandberg for the Artificial Eye Captures!

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Artificial Eye - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM

 

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Artificial Eye - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Artificial Eye - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Artificial Eye - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM

 

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Artificial Eye - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Artificial Eye - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM

 

More Blu-ray captures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

A strong DTS-HD 5.1 track in original French and Arabic at 3484 kbps. The film is very dialogue driven with only the music as more dynamic segments. There is separation but the range is subtle allowing the depth to be more prominent. The track is flawless and the buoyancy of the music at the end runs to a create a memorable conclusion. There are optional English subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'A'-locked Blu-ray.

 

Criterion wins here handily with the lossless audio.

 

 

Extras :

The supplements appear to duplicate the simultaneously released DVD with only the 'timeline' feature addition exclusive to the Blu-ray extras but all the video pieces are in HD. It starts with a new 13-minute video interview with director Kechiche recorded exclusively for Criterion in March of this year. He briefly discusses the narrative - in French with optional English subtitles. Sueur is Kechiche’s extended reedit of the climactic belly-dancing sequence, featuring a new video introduction by the director running about 3/4 of an hour. He discusses a new aural and video interpretation to the film's passionate climax. There is a 20-minute interview with film scholar Ludovic Cortade, author of Le cinéma de l'immobilité - He discusses themes and the style of The Secret Grain. Under the titles 20 heures - we get an 8-minutes excerpt from a French television interview with Kechiche and actress Hafsia Herzi - subtitled in English. There are interviews as well with Herzi (Rym) for 15-minutes, actress Bouraouïa Marzouk (11:02), and the film’s musicians (15:17). They discuss the making of the film and integral roles. There is a 2-minute theatrical trailer and 16-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film critic Wesley Morris.

 

The AE DVD has a 24-minute interview and a trailer but Criterion really advances in this area.

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 

Artificial Eye - Region 2 - PAL

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
This isn't good storytelling... this is is great storytelling - which is what we all, essentially, want from cinema. The Secret of the Grain is an absolutely gorgeous film about family, love, respect and... life. I was very moved by my viewing and was extremely glad to have been exposed to this gentle masterpiece. I, unusually, thought a bit of El Norte as I watched The Secret of the Grain - perhaps because of my ignorance of both before putting the respective discs in the player and the strongly positive reaction that both exported. The Criterion Blu-ray meets their incredibly high standards for the medium in terms of video/audio and supplements and you may purchase with a high degree of confidence. This film and transfer are highly recommended!

 

As Per-Olaf says "For those of you that don't own a Region "A" Blu-ray player, Artificial Eye (UK) gives Couscous aka The Secret of the Grain in a strong DVD. The master seems to be the same that Criterion has used." Agreed. The Criterion is the definitive way to view in your home theater but the AE, released last year, is a reasonable replacement. 

Gary Tooze

July 19th, 2010

 

 

   

 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be it, but film will always be my first love and I list my favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible HERE.  

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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