The Arty Semite

Francis Veber: Laughter from Pain

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
Francis Veber (right) directs “Le Dîner de Cons.”

The veteran French comedy filmmaker Francis Veber, whose “Le Dîner de cons” was recently remade in Hollywood as “Dinner for Schmucks,” is a master of spoofing painful social anxiety and feelings of exclusion. His new memoir from Les éditions Robert Laffont, “Let This be our Secret,” addresses how Veber’s Jewish roots influenced his comedic skills.

Veber’s maternal grandmother, Marguerite Bernard, was the sister of the French Jewish humorist Tristan Bernard, who was deported to Drancy after the Nazis invaded France, only to be freed after powerful friends like Jean Cocteau objected. Veber’s father, Pierre-Gilles Veber, spent the war years hiding “at the back of our apartment, wearing his pajamas, desperately awaiting the Liberation.” Veber notes: “I was born in Neuilly to a Jewish father and Armenian mother; two genocides, two ensanguined wailing walls, all just to produce a comedian.”

Beaten by classmates who guessed that “this little boy named Veber with a somewhat suspect nose must be Jewish,” the writer and director recalls: “I had become the kike of all these bastards who regularly accorded me a personal pogrom.” Bitter domestic tensions extended from Veber’s parents to his maternal grandmother, who called Pierre-Gilles Veber a “filthy Jew,” since:

like many Russians, [she] didn’t like Jews and found her daughter’s marriage exceedingly hard to accept. One day when I criticized her antisemitism, she defended herself by using the most antisemitic argument I had ever heard: “In our hometown of Armavir,” she explained, “Jews were forbidden entry, so how could I have been antisemitic?”

Launching a career in comedy, first as a playwright and screenwriter, and later as director, Veber’s 1968 play “L’ Enlèvement” (The Kidnapping) offended the French Jewish aircraft industrialist Marcel Dassault (born Bloch), who sued Veber on the grounds that the play mocked the then-recent real-life kidnapping of his wife (a French judge later dismissed the case).

Discovering that in showbiz, “fraternity means vigilant loathing,” Veber recounts his triumphs and disasters with absorbing frankness, including his inadvertent bad timing of releasing a 1973 comedy, “The Suitcase” about an Israeli secret agent kidnapped by Arab spies, the same week in which the tragic Yom Kippur War broke out. Veber is frank about despising some younger Hollywood players, such as the twin screenwriters Daniel and Josh Goldin, whose “ironic little smiles gave me eczema.” “Let This be our Secret” artfully illustrates how producing comedy from historical and personal tragedy has made Veber one of France’s best-appreciated laugh-makers.

Watch part of a 2007 Shanghai stage production of Veber’s “Le Dîner de cons”:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Josh Goldin, Francis Veber, Film, Dinner for Schmucks, Daniel Goldin, Le Diner de cons, Marcel Dassault, Marguerite Bernard, Tristan Bernard, Yom Kippur War

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!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • 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.