The Israeli series, BeTipul, about a psychologist and his patients, has been adapted around the world in dozens of countries, and a French adaptation, called En Thérapie, created by the directing duo Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, just debuted on the Arte network in Europe.
These longtime French-Jewish collaborators, who are best known for the movie, Les Intouchables, a drama about the bond between a wheelchair-bound man and his caregiver that has also been remade in several languages and adapted for the stage, chose the French version of the celebrated BeTipul for their first foray into television.
Although En Thérapie is a television series, said Toledano in a recent Zoom interview, “It’s the essence of cinema – one room and two people.”
The series has an acclaimed cast, featuring Frederic Pierrot as the psychotherapist, Philippe Dayan, and the series also stars Melanie Thierry, Reda Kateb (who appeared in Toledano and Nakache’s most recent film, The Specials), Celeste Brunnquell, Clemence Poesy, Pio Marmai, Elsa Lepoivre and Djemel Barek as Dayan’s patients and family, and Carole Bouquet as his former analyst, with whom he reconnects. Producers Yael Fogiel and Laetitia Gonzalez worked alongside Nakache and Toledano.
The two directors began contemplating making the series when they had lunch with BeTipul creator Hagai Levi in Jaffa when they were promoting their 2014 film, Samba, in Israel. The Israeli show had already been made into the HBO series, In Treatment, and had been done all over the world. “We asked, ‘How about one more adaptation?’ and he said he said, ‘I have almost 20 but I have only one regret, France and Germany,’” Toledano recalled.
By working with the Arte Channel to produce the series, “We were able to bridge the gap between France and Germany,” since the channel is both French and German.
The two chose to set the series at a specific historic moment in the recent past, the aftermath of the terror attacks in and around Paris on November 13, 2015.
“Everyone remembers where they were on that night, like with 9/11,” he said. “For me it was an ordinary Shabbat, I was at home. Then the phone started ringing... I tried to talk to my children, to explain it to them. But it’s like with a bomb, it goes off and you don’t know what the consequences will be.”
Before the attacks, “We were not the land of terrorism. We lost a kind of innocence, we were more fragile afterwards... And everyone has been affected, all parts of society, in all these attacks, the November attacks, the Charlie Hebdo killing, the Hypercacher attacks and all the others – journalists, cops, Jews, teachers.”
It took a few years for them to process the attacks before they could deal with them in their work.
“Our first reaction was to make a comedy,” he said, which turned out to be the 2017 wedding comedy, C’est la Vie. “Our personal therapy was to be in the middle of a cinema with people laughing around us.”
But as time passed, they became ready to focus on the fallout from the attacks. The series, Toledano said, “is a kind of snapshot of French society in 2015.. . We were conscious that we have to put in the words and the dialogue and the fears and the silence that are in the middle of a noisy society. [En Thérapie] is very much in opposition to what we are living now with the information channels and the flow of information,,, everyone is talking together but no one is listening to each other.”
Just as with the original series, “We wanted to use the trauma of the terror attacks to go more deeply into each character’s personal problems... We start with the attacks and use them as a way into each person’s life.”
While the main character of the therapist is Jewish, the series does not spotlight antisemitism, which Toledano said he and Nakache had not experienced personally.
En Thérapie deals with one difficult moment and it has been released at another complex moment, during the novel coronavirus pandemic. They completed the shooting just before the pandemic hit last spring and edited it during the first lockdown, Toledano said.
“We were almost in a bad situation, but we managed to work around it,” he said.
In Toledano and Nakache’s previous film, The Specials, they looked at Parisians from different parts of society – Orthodox Jews, black and immigrant youth from the slums and mainstream French families – who connect with each other through working with young people and children who are autistic. Asked whether they see a similar theme in En Thérapie, of very different people connecting and communicating, Toledano said, “Directors have the same obsession, during all their lives, and they are always saying the same [thing], but differently.”