The Arty Semite

Remembering French Jewish filmmaker Claude Berri

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
Nathalie Rheims and Claude Berri

Just over a year ago, Kaddish was recited over the grave of French Jewish film director and producer Claude Berri at the suburban Bagneux Cemetery, known for its large Jewish section. More up-to-date recognition is overdue, and Berri’s longtime companion, the glamorous French Jewish novelist Nathalie Rheims, recently produced a memoir, “Claude” from Editions Léo Scheer in Paris, to provide such a tribute.

A member of the Rothschild family, Rheims is daughter of the French auctioneer and academician Maurice Rheims and sister of the photographer Bettina Rheims. Berri had less artsy origins, born Claude Berel Langmann in 1934, son of a Paris furrier.

Focusing on his Jewish heritage, Berri’s early film “The Two of Us,” (1967) is a semiautobiographical look at a Jewish boy hidden during the Nazi Occupation of France by a grouchy old antisemitic villager while his “Mazel Tov, or The Marriage” (1968) is about a young Israeli who marries into a rich Belgian family. In 1990 Berri returned to the theme of the Occupation in the film “Uranus,” about postwar conflict between collaborationist supporters of Marshal Pétain and Communists in a French village. Rheims’s “Claude” confirms that while unobservant, Berri

loved [religious Jewish] rituals, like those we attended at the home of Angela and Pierre Assouline. They took you back to your origins; the cooking reminded you of your mother Betty’s…

Food was a key element for Berri, and Rheims relates that he was so impatient about eating that it was necessary to order meals from the car while driving to restaurants. Equally voracious about helping young Jewish directors like the Tel Aviv-born Yvan Attal; Alain Chabat of Algerian origin; and Paris-born Noémie Lvovsky Berri also was a fervent art collector. Alain Cohen (who played a version of the 8-year-old Berri) calls “The Two of Us” a “parable about prejudice.” The old man who hates Jews without ever having met one is like someone, says Cohen, “who says he hates tomatoes without ever having tasted one.” In his exuberantly creative life, there are few of the finer artistic pleasures which Claude Berri did not taste.

Listen here to a 1999 French interview with a resonant-voiced Berri (no subtitles, alas).

Watch a video tribute to Claude Berri below.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Uranus, Rothschild, Rheims, Noemie Lvovsky, Petain, Berri, Alain Chabat, ALain Cohen

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.