Posted by Wesley Morris
March 26, 2010 08:30 AM
Whether they know it or not, the French are lucky to have Abdellatif Kechiche
at least from where Americans sit. His North Africans and French-Arabs
needn't be gangstas or endure prison to be revealed as fully human. The
family in 2008's "The Secret of the Grain
had merely to survive their restaurant's opening night, which turns out
to be harder than you'd think. Kechiche managed to turn what, by
rights, should have been a 44-minute drama into a nearly great epic,
with generous helpings of couscous, fish, and belly-dancing. It's a
thrilling achievement that comes by those thrills with stunning
49, Kechiche has made only three movies (he began as an actor), but
each is hotter, tenser, and more daringly mundane than what preceded
it. His second film, "Games of Love and Chance
(2004), about a kid from the projects who acts in the school play,
should be required viewing for anyone planning a movie about the
expansion of a teenager's emotional spectrum. Warning, though: Its
casual sensuality will be tough to improve upon. A very good director
can make the basics of being alive -- food, sex, and food, to name
three -- seem like the only reasons to live. Kechiche is such an
artist, welding realism and melodrama until one seems useless without
the other. That's true of almost exactly no one else.
The Harvard Film Archive
is devoting this weekend to Kechiche's films, as part of his accepting
Harvard's McMillan-Stewart Fellowship in Distinguished Filmmaking,
which goes to directors of Francophone African descent. He joins some
intimidating peers. Abderrahmane Sissako
was a 1999 fellow, and the late Ousmane Sembene
accepted in 2001. Kechiche will attend all three
screenings this weekend. May he be peppered with pleas for advice. If
he can inspire just two young American filmmakers to bring new people
and perceptions -- some genuine feeling -- to their art, then the
movies will be profoundly better for it.
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