If you’ve grown up as a Sephardic Jew, there’s one singer that you’ve reliably heard at every single wedding, bar/bat-mitzvah, engagement party, Shabbat, or celebration of any kind.
His name is Enrico Macias.
Born Gaston Ghrenassia in Constantine — then in French Algeria — in 1938, the Jewish “Pied Noir” singer has come to embody the bittersweet memories and nostalgia felt by Jews who left their Arab homelands in the 1960s and ‘70s.
In other words, you’re not a Jew of North African descent until you’ve seen your grandmother tearing up to “Adieu mon pays,” (“Goodbye My Country”), Macias’s first hit, written from the deck of the boat carrying him and his family away from their war-torn home.
Macias and his wife, Suzy, fled the Algerian War for Independence in 1961 after his father-in-law, Cheikh Raymond Leyris — also a famous musician — was murdered. Macias’s father, Sylvain Ghrenassia, was a violinist in an Andalo-Arabic orchestra.
Since then, he’s become an international superstar of French music, an “Ambassador at Large for Peace and Protection of the Children of the World” (named by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in 1997), and most recently, a successful comedy actor.
The Forward’s Anne Cohen sat down with Macias at the Gansevoort Hotel in New York City to talk about his upcoming move to Israel, his new movie career and, of course, his favorite songs.
This interview has been translated from French.
Anne Cohen: A movie about your life premiered at the 17th Annual New York Sephardic Film Festival. You also star in “Would I Lie To You 3”, which will close the festival on March 20. How do you like acting?
Enrico Macias: My first movie experience was “La Vérité Si Je Mens 2” (“Would I Lie To You 2”). When they asked me to be in “La Vérité Si Je Mens 3” (“Would I Lie to You 3”) it was like a reward, because it meant that I wasn’t so bad. The movie was a big success in France. Not just for the actors, but for me personally. I’m not a seasoned actor, I did this on a lark. But it turns out I really like acting. Especially comedy acting. Which is funny because I’m not necessarily like that in everyday life. I like to laugh, and I like to make jokes. But in front of a camera, I only have to stare and people laugh.
I think a new, younger audience has joined my traditional fans – and when I saw traditional fans, they also span a couple of generations. It’s great. Young people see me in movies and say “Oh, he’s also a singer, I’m going to listen to his songs.” And that’s how they discover my work.
PARIS - American singer Bob Dylan may soon be awarded France’s highest distinction, the Legion d’Honneur, after his nomination was reportedly first tossed out over his marijuana use and opposition to the Vietnam War.
The green light given by the Legion d’Honneur’s council means France’s minister of culture may soon decorate Dylan — a symbol of 1960s counterculture — with the five-pointed star of the top “Chevalier” order.
He would join the ranks of singers such as Britain’s Paul McCartney and France’s Charles Aznavour to be so honoured.
The 17-member council determines whether nominations put forward by government ministers conform to the institution’s principles. Its grand chancellor, Jean-Louis Georgelin, confirmed it had approved Dylan’s nomination.
In a letter to the daily Le Monde published on Sunday, Georgelin called the singer-songwriter an “exceptional artist” known in the United States and internationally as a “tremendous singer and great poet”.
Satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine reported in May that Georgelin had rejected Dylan’s nomination on the basis of his opposition to the war in Vietnam, where France was a former colonial power, and his presumed pot smoking.
Georgelin acknowledged to Le Monde that he had originally thrown out the nomination and cited what he called a “controversy” but did not elaborate further.
The culture ministry did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Dylan’s ballads like “Blowing in the Wind” became anthems of the civil rights and anti-war movement in the United States, while the musical innovation and cynical lyrics of “Like a Rolling Stone” established him as a counter-culture icon.
Culture Minister Aurelie Filipetti had nominated Dylan - who in 1990 was given a lower rank of the award - for the highest “Chevalier” distinction.
The singer was awarded the top civilian honour in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in May 2012.
French film star Gerard Depardieu failed to show up in court to face drink driving charges on Tuesday because he was preparing to play disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a film, his lawyer said.
The no-show means the case will turn into a full trial - guaranteeing yet another day in the spotlight for the garrulous actor currently caught up in a scandal over his tax status.
It could also lead to the rotund, 64-year-old star of “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Asterix and Obelix” getting a tougher sentence if convicted - in theory up to two years in prison.
“Despite wanting to be there and meet the judges and in no way to escape justice, Gerard Depardieu absolutely could not be present,” his lawyer Eric de Caumont told a throng of reporters outside the Paris courtroom.
He said his client was in Montenegro preparing to play Strauss-Kahn, who was seen as the next Socialist president of France before a U.S. sex scandal bought down his career last year.
Depardieu is accused of crashing his scooter in Paris with more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. No one else was injured in the accident.
Former French screen goddess Brigitte Bardot on Friday threatened to follow Gerard Depardieu in asking for a Russian passport, in protest not at tax hikes, but at the treatment of two circus elephants.
The animals, named Baby and Nepal and owned by a touring circus, are thought to be carrying tuberculosis and were ordered to be put down by a court in Lyon, southern France, on Friday as a precautionary measure.
Bardot’s threat comes a day after fellow actor Depardieu caused a storm in France by becoming a Russian citizen in protest at high tax rates proposed by the Socialist government, which he accuses of penalising success.
“If those in power are cowardly and impudent enough to kill the elephants… then I have decided I will ask for Russian nationality to get out of this country which has become nothing more than an animal cemetery,” Bardot said in a statement.
Owners Cirque Pinder also said on Friday they would appeal to save the elephants, which first tested positive for tuberculosis in 2010 but have since been kept in a zoo in Lyon away from the general public.
Harvey Weinstein will be joining Steven Spielberg and Jerry Lewis in the rarified and very small club of Jewish American filmmakers awarded France’s highest cultural distinction, the Legion of Honor.
Although Weinstein’s big push of the French-made film “The Artist” to Oscar glory late last month has him in the headlines lately, it was already on French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s mind to honor the producer in July of last year. The Weinstein Co. reported that it delayed until late last week the release of a letter to Weinstein from Sarkozy dated July 22, 2011 in order to avoid any conflict of interest.
What would be your attitude toward someone who had plotted to kill you? I can’t help thinking that I’d be more than a little broiges.
You would imagine that the stakes are upped a little when the target of the murder plot is the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas party. After all, his would-be murderer was planning his death as an act of terrorism, and Yosef famously said in 2001 that it is “forbidden to be merciful” to Palestinian terrorists. People initially presumed that the “them” referred to Palestinians in general, but he then clarified that he meant Arab terrorists.
It was the alcohol and drugs talking, not John Galliano.
That’s the defense being used, predictably, by the English fashion designer, who went on trial in Paris today for anti-Semitic rants made at a restaurant in the French capital in October and February. The comments qualify as criminal hate speech in France, where Galliano faces up to six months in prison and a fine of roughly $32,400.
Galliano, who was fired as the creative director at Christian Dior in March, has repeatedly apologized for the comments, and reportedly entered rehab after being caught on camera declaring, “I love Hitler.” He described himself in court as “a recovering alcoholic, a recovering addict,” and hopes, in his lawyer’s words, to “rebuild himself professionally and personally.” The designer, who is gay, denied being a bigot, telling the court, “I do not have these [anti-Semitic] views, and I have never held them.”
Sure, French automaker Renault made about 30,000 trucks for the Nazis, and even repaired German tanks during World War II. But does that make founder Louis Renault a collaborator?
His granddaughter doesn’t think so. So along with seven other Renault grandchildren, Helene Renault-Dingli is suing the French government over what she calls “the illegal confiscation of the company in November 1944” after claims that it had backed Germany’s war effort, the UK Telegraph reports.
Little had been known about French collaborationist leader Philippe Pétain’s influence on anti-Semitic policies in Vichy France, where he governed from 1940 to 1944.
But according to The Guardian, a draft of a memo, recently revealed to the Holocaust Memorial in Paris, shows Pétain went to great efforts to extend the brutal treatment of French Jews already imposed by the Nazis.
We knew that denying the Holocaust could get a teacher in trouble. But believing in it?
Haaretz reported that the French education ministry has suspended a Jewish teacher in Nancy for teaching “too much” about the Holocaust, “lacking distance, neutrality and secularism” in discussing it — and manipulating her students through “brainwashing.”
But a lawyer for Catherine Pederzoli believes the “witch hunt” might have less to do with the teacher’s lesson plans and more with her origins, according to the UK Daily Mail. “Had the teacher been Christian, no one would have accused her of brainwashing,” said attorney Christine Tadic. “It leads me ask if she is in fact being blamed for being Jewish.” Tadic told the Daily Mail she had filed for an injunction over the teacher’s suspension and a court was due to rule on the matter within two weeks.