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Elbé on Israeli cinema's 'energy, curiosity and political engagement'

The 11th Israeli Film Festival is underway in Paris and will continue through March 29. sat down for an interview with French actor and director Pascal Elbé, who is headlining the festival as a guest of honour.


The 11th Israeli Film Festival of Paris kicked off in the French capital on Wednesday and will continue through March 29th at the Cinéma des cineastes (17th district). On the program are 13 feature-length Israeli films -- most of them being screened for the first time in France – and eight documentaries, including Shlomi Eldar’s “Precious Life”. interviewed French actor and filmmaker Pascal Elbé, who is the guest of honour at this year’s edition of the festival.

FRANCE 24: Is it your first time as guest of honour at a festival?

Pascal Elbé: I’ve already been on festival juries. It’s something I enjoy but that I can’t always do. We actors and filmmakers are so often asked to participate in these types of events that we could spend our entire lives doing them. But for the Israeli Film Festival of Paris, it’s different: to act as the ambassador for Israeli cinema, which I love, is an honour.

F24: What does Israeli cinema represent for you?

Photo by Hugo Cohen.
Photo by Hugo Cohen.

Pascal Elbé: I’ve been following Israeli cinema for several years as a viewer, but also as a director and storyteller. I’ve seen a lot of Israeli movies whose energy and critical spirit reminds me of Italian cinema after World War II or Spanish movies from the 1980s. Today, it’s films like “Lebanon” and “Waltz with Bashir” that inspire me.

There is currently a generation of Israeli filmmakers who work with a liberty of tone and of film language that I can’t help but envy. At the beginning, Israeli cinema was full of national propaganda, but it grew freer as young Israelis started distancing themselves from longstanding societal conventions. Today, an entire generation of Israelis can, in Israel, say loud and clear what they think. They can express their doubts and reservations about the society which they are a part of.

F24: What do you think French cinema can learn from Israeli cinema?

Pascal Elbé: Energy, curiosity, political engagement. Israeli citizens inevitably have a particular outlook on certain things because they are living through those things. In France, it’s different. A love story set in Israel is obviously going to have a different impact than one that takes place near the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Cinema is a window into a culture. And French culture has been fading, it’s been paralysed. French literature, for example, today has only two or three major authors, and we’re still looking for the others. In Israel, there are lots. I’m not in the habit of saying “It was better before”, because I don’t know how it was before, but I find that it’s better elsewhere.

F24: Would you be willing to work in Israel?

Pascal Elbé: As a director, I already had the chance to work with the actress Ronit Elkabetz, who I cast in my film “Tete de Turc”. As an actor, I’d obviously like to collaborate with Isareli filmmakers. I’m leaving soon for a six-week shoot in Israel with French actress Emmanuelle Devos. The film tells the story of two families, one Palestinian and the other Israeli whose lives overlap without their knowing. It’s a French-Israeli co-production which will be directed by Lorraine Lévy from a script by [Algerian writer] Yasmina Khadra. A nice mix....And my second film as a director will also take place partly in Israel.

Photos, clockwise from top left: "Le messie viendra toujours", "Precious Life", "The Matchmaker" and "Sea Salt".

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