In Israel to attend screenings of their new film, Nos Jours Heureux, directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache encountered a big problem - so many of their Israeli cousins want to see the movie that there weren't enough tickets left. "It's like a bar mitzva," says Toledano. "They all want to come." Toledano has just fielded a phone call from his father, who was scandalized that his son had neglected to invite certain remote family members to the film.
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The cousins may have had to stand on line at what promised to be an overflowing screening, just as they would have had to line up for the film in France, where it was a huge hit. More than a million and half viewers have seen the movie there - or, as the 34-year-old Toledano puts it, "like Titanic minus 19 million."
Nos Jours Heureux, which opens in Israel today, tells the story of a French summer camp in the early Nineties run by a group of counselors who have yet to grow up themselves. It's a fitting subject for Toledano and Nakache, childhood friends who met at a Jewish summer camp in France.
"We decided to set this film in the early Nineties instead of today because you couldn't have Jewish, Arab and black kids in the same place [now]. It's more tense between the communities," says Nakache, 32.
The camp in the movie is non-denominational, unlike the Jewish community camp Toledano and Nakache attended, because, says Toledano, "We wanted to speak to everyone ... So many people, Jews and non-Jews, have come up to us after they saw it and said, 'It reminds me of my childhood.'"
The success of Nos Jours, which won the Audience Award this year at the City of Lights, City of Angels Festival in Los Angeles, is especially gratifying, because the duo's first film, Just Friends, didn't do as well as expected, in spite of the presence of French megastar Gerard Depardieu. It told the story of a shy guy (played by Jean-Paul Rouve, who also stars in Nos Jours Heureux) who gets romance advice from a more experienced man (Depardieu), whose problem is staying in the many relationships he starts.
Still, Toledano and Nakache are grateful to Depardieu for taking a chance on two unknown filmmakers. "He's a great man," says Toledano. "He read our script and if he likes a movie, he makes it."
"He taught us a great deal," adds Nakache, who recalls that Depardieu would sometimes give them very pointed advice on how to run their set. ("But he had the right," he adds.)
Depardieu also helped them navigate the complex world of mainstream filmmaking and stick to their roots. "He told us, 'Do your own scripts, then you become a good director,'" Toledano says. The two had been tempted to follow up Just Friends with a director-for-hire job, making someone else's script.
The two are traveling the world promoting Nos Jours, but are also working on a new script, a film about three generations of a Parisian family.
Now that they have established themselves as filmmakers, their parents, who had hoped their sons would be doctors or lawyers, are just beginning to warm up to their career choice.
"Maybe I'll make a film about a doctor," says Toledano. "Through films you can live another life."