Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The image is presented in 1080p/24hz.
The film was shot using high-def cameras so I can’t say I’m too surprised by what we get, which is a fairly striking image. The image is clean, detail is high, colours look wonderful, and of course, since this was taken directly from the digital source, there is no damage of any sort. Some artifacts are visible in darker sequences, specifically “digital grain” but this has nothing to do with the transfer itself; I’m sure this is exactly how it looks. The bitrate is surprisingly low (high-teens to low twenties through a majority of the film) but I still can’t say I noticed any problems because of this.
If I don’t sound overly enthused it’s because this is pretty much what I expected and can’t say I was surprised but it looks crisp, clean, and very sharp. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
This is actually a fairly loaded special edition with a few new features along with items Criterion has ported from other editions (I assume a French DVD/BD edition.)
The first item is an interview with Abdellatif Kechiche that was conducted exclusively for Criterion. It’s short, running only 13-minutes, but Kechiche manages to pack some great material in here, including his original desire to cast his father in the lead (which didn’t happen because he died before filming began,) and his interest in the working class, but brings up he has no desire to make any sort of political statement because he feels that would be disservice to his characters. He talks about the development of the story (which morphed all through the development process,) casting, and his use of handheld cameras. Again it’s short but it’s informative and rather enjoyable.
The most interesting feature on here, though, may be the next one, a “short film” compiled together from footage shot for the film’s climactic belly dance sequence. Simply called Sueur (which means “Sweat”) and running 45-minutes, Kechiche in a short introduction explains he chose to include this instead of deleted scenes (which there are plenty of apparently) and considered it to be “like a film” all on its own. The entire “film” focuses solely on the belly dance, the musicians, and the guests, never cutting to other scenes like it does in the actual film. There’s more numbers, singing, and the guests seem to go a little more overboard in their partying (including a quick cut to vomiting.) It’s intriguing seeing the entire sequence (or at least a bigger chunk of it) and is fun, but it might be a little long.
Criterion also includes an excerpt from a French television program called 20 Heures, filmed for French television after The Secret of the Grain did rather well at the César Awards. In the segment there is short segment interviewing the residents of Sète, where the film was shot, who appeared in or worked on the film, and they all gush over how well the film did. In the studio both Kechiche and actress Hafsia Herzi are present, talking to the host about the film and the awards, specifically Herzi’s award for what I guess would be “Best Newcomer.” Unfortunately short, and I wish there was some footage from the actual awards, but getting brief interviews with various members of the cast mixed with the excitement throughout about the film’s wins makes it an enjoyable little piece.
A little staler is the interview with Ludovic Cortarde, which runs a stuffy 21-minutes. Actually, it’s not that bad, but the other features are all so brisk that this one is a little bit of a chore to sit through as he talks about “Beur” films (Beur being a slang term for French-Arab) and how Secret of the Grain doesn’t fit into that genre. He covers its presentations of racism, which is subtle, explains some character motivations, goes into the French title (which is La graine et le mulet,) and also explains the director’s use of long scenes. There’s some decent analysis in here and I do feel I got some interesting insights out of it but it’s unfortunately dry.
The remaining supplements all looked to be pulled from another French DVD/Blu-ray. First is an interview with actress Hafsia Herzi, running about 15-minutes. She talks about her desire to become an actress and how she came to work on this film, her first real acting gig, and then her eventual win at the César Awards. She covers what it was like to work with Kechiche and how he changed the character she was playing, sounding like it was expanded upon substantially, and then talks about the belly dance, having to take dance lessons and gain weight. She comes off a little shy, or at least reserved, but is still charming and keeps the interview interesting.
The next interview with Bouraouïa Marzouk, who plays the ex-wife, Souad, is probably the best interview on here. A non-professional who really lucked into the role, she talks for 11-minutes about her history and how she got the role, and then gets into great detail about how she built up this character. For someone who is a non-professional I was rather surprised how much thought and preparation she put into preparing for the role, even picking out the items that would be in her character’s kitchen. A surprising interview.
The final interview is a 15-minute one with the Musicians who appear in the film. It’s a light little piece, with the musicians playing a bit and then talking about their roles in the film, rehearsing with Kechiche, and then moving on to Eastern music, their instruments, and then Hafsia’s dance. Light, and not necessary viewing, but enjoyable still.
The release then concludes with the French theatrical trailer, which I felt gave away a lot of the film in its 2-minutes. Definitely don’t watch it before.
A slim booklet comes with a worthwhile essay by Wesley Morris, who opens by basically stating how stupid (if not putting it that bluntly) the English language title is, which I happen to agree with.
I’m surprised deleted scenes didn’t make it, and footage from the César’s would have been great, especially since there’s so much excitement surrounding them in some of the interviews. But Criterion has put together a rather comprehensive set of supplements that offer some strong analysis and intriguing behind-the-scenes stories, despite the film being so new. 9/10