Slimane (Habib Boufares) is 61, and he has just lost his job in the shipyard in Sete, France, after 35 years of working there. He is divorced from Souad (Bouraouia Marzouk), who hosts a large family get-together on Sundays for their three married daughters, two sons, and all the grandchildren in this Franco-Arab clan. Slimane is not present but his two sons bring him a large serving of fish couscous, his ex-wife's specialty. He now lives in a harborside hotel run by Latifa (Hatika Karaoui), his lover. Slimane is very close to her multi-talented teenage daughter Rym (Hafsia Herzi). His eldest son Majid (Sami Zitouni) is having an affair, and his wife and siblings all know about it.
Although some in his family think he should retire to his homeland in North Africa, Slimane decides to invest his severance pay in a unseaworthy boat and turn it into a restaurant. Rym enthusiastically accompanies him on visits to various offices in town to arrange a loan and take care of all the permits and other details. Meanwhile back at the hotel, a band of musicians gossip about Slimane's plans and decide to lend their support at a fundraiser where 100 of the town's dignitaries will be gathered. The dinner will be prepared by Slimane's first wife. This development upsets Latifa who also views the restaurant as competition.
The Secret of the Grain is written and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, and it won Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and actress awards at the 2008 Cesar Awards. This robust film embraces several ambitious themes: the need of elders to pass on a legacy to their families, the struggles faced by Arabs in France where they are viewed as lower-class citizens, the tensions and rivalries which hound large families, and the surprising ways a dream can draw people together in a common mission. Some may be disturbed by the inordinate amount of time given to big meals and family fights but here is where true character is revealed and loyalty tested. The heart and soul of the drama rests with the incredible performance of Hafsia Herzi as Rym, Slimane's young friend who is a belly dancer. She comes up with a creative way to help the old man fulfill his dream.