We'll always have Paris... unfortunately

Yael Abecassis stars in director Marco Carmel's film about a Jewish Tunisian family in France.

By LAURE WYBIER
March 26, 2009 08:37
3 minute read.
We'll always have Paris... unfortunately

Yael Abecassis 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Heads or tails? In Marco Carmel's movie, Comme ton pere (Like Your Father, or Michel's Secrets in Hebrew), based on the director's own story, the father of the Maïmoun family plays with their fate with a coin-toss game. "Heads, we go to Paris; tails, we return to Israel." It's 1970 in the French port of Marseille, and destiny has been decided. Felix, his wife Mireille (Yael Abecassis) and their two children, Michel and Eric, freshly arrived from the Holy Land, are on the road. Destination: the French capital. There, they settled in the popular neighborhood of Belleville, where Jews and Arabs live side by side. To get his family out of poverty, Felix slips from selling goods at flea-markets to bank holdups, under the influence of Serge, a gang leader - until the police catch him and put him in jail. Mireille remains alone, with her two kids. For Michel, the youngest, it's totally disenchanting. His heroic perception of his father has to contend with the less pleasant one of a very ordinary man who made the wrong decisions and who has left his family to its own devices. In this confusion, Michel comes to violent actions and is placed under the guardianship of Serge - an experience that will shatter his life. It took four years for Carmel to arrive at the final version of his script. "The first draft was very gloomy. I got all my anger out. Then, I had to work to clean it up and select the information [I wanted to include]." With an irrepressible need to get rid of the French period of his life, the scriptwriter succeeded in the end to transcend the traumas of his painful memories in a bittersweet script. Using immigration as background, Carmel shares - like in a diary - his memories in the folkloric set of Paris in the 1970s. Those were difficult years for him, during which he had to leave childhood and was confronted by the reality around him: a violent grown-up world. It is a painful transition, filmed tenderly through a playful point of view. Throughout the movie, the director draws a funny parallel between the image onscreen, which shows reality, and the off-screen voice of Michel as an adult, which presents a perception of events through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy. Also, what really helped Carmel during his writing was the fact that he was discovering for himself what the role of being a father was all about, since he was raising his own son. It helped him to understand his own father. And this experience brightens the script, as Carmel reconciles with the French period of his life and allows himself to depict it with humor and compassion. The movie, which opens Thursday in Israel, centers on the relationship between Felix and Michel's characters. Like Your Father uses the problems of assimilation and the Arab-Israeli conflict as a backdrop. The movie exposes the difficulties of absorption of a North African family. It exemplifies how Eastern rules and ancestral traditions don't square with Western society's codes. This gap has a huge impact on the family microcosm. Each of the members has to find his new place, his new part - particularly Mireille, the mother. A strong character in Carmel's movie, this typical Tunisian mother, who until now only had to worry about cooking couscous, suddenly becomes the one who has to provide for her family. Another theme in the film is the Arab-Israeli conflict. "I tried to find a way to mention this true factor of my childhood in Belleville, but without giving to it too much importance," explained the scriptwriter. "For two reasons: First, it's not the main theme of my movie. Then, Belleville neighborhood was a real 'little Tunisia.' Jews and Arabs were living there together, side by side." In Carmel's film, one can see the effects of the cultural tensions mainly among the children, whose games are to fight - Arabs against Jews - after school, before taking in a movie at the theater.

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