Commentary
5:00 am
Wed November 21, 2012

Indie Film Guide 11/21 - 12/4

No screenings over the next few weeks, so, instead, Fletcher Powell takes a look at a couple of his favorite "food" movies for Thanksgiving.

When I think of Thanksgiving movies, it’s not actually movies that take place on Thanksgiving that come to mind. I think of movies that are about great food and family.

Arguably, the all-time champion of big food movies is Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s 1996 charmer, Big Night. The movie follows two immigrant brothers who run a struggling Italian restaurant in 1950s New Jersey, and who come upon the opportunity to save their restaurant’s fortunes by holding a huge dinner in honor of the musician Louis Prima.

The ultimate dinner scene must be one of the great centerpieces in movie history, but Big Night is about so much more—the struggle between brothers, the frustration of true genius, and the fullness of life, love, music, and, yes, great food. By the end, Big Night respects its characters and story enough not to wrap everything up in a nice, tidy, uncomplicated bow, but the final scene of the movie is simple and perfect.

Across the table is a 2007 French/Tunisian film with the American title, The Secret of the Grain. The grain, here, is couscous, as this movie also follows an immigrant, this time a North African man in France and his extended family-- both real and adopted. The man dreams of leaving a particular future for that family, and, like in Big Night, the movie builds to a climactic and expansive dinner scene that has major implications for everyone involved.

The Secret of the Grain manages to be both grand and subtle, finding a vibrancy in the mundane. But the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, also understands our expectations and our cultural stereotypes, and he plays on these to heat the film to a rolling boil, ultimately leaving us heartbroken and exhilarated. Like any good Thanksgiving dinner, The Secret of the Grain can be messy and difficult, but the movie displays a deep authenticity and honesty about life and family.

Big Night:

The Secret of the Grain: