French Cinema: Elsa Zylberstein–Actor Becomes Producer, ‘Elise Boghossian’ Biopic, ‘Esther Perel’ Series

Elsa Zylberstein: Actor Becomes Major French Producer: Elise Boghossian Biopic, Esther Perel Series

Elsa Zylberstein
Esther Haase
Elsa Zylberstein, one of French cinema actors, known for her Cesar-winning performance in I’ve Loved You For So Long, plans to become major film producer.

She had set up banners in France and the U.S., Zylberstein and developing films and series, working with Oscar-winning Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad (The Cave), Ted Braun (Darfur Now) and Oscar-winning writer Christopher Hampton (The Father).

Now there’s “Kingdom of Hope,” a movie about Elise Boghossian, a French acupuncturist and humanitarian worker in a war zone who has healed children victims of ISIS . The movie will be directed by Fayyad, who is based in Berlin, and is being penned by Braun, based on Boghossian’s autobiographical book “Au royaume de l’espoir, il n’y a pas d’hiver.”

Zylberstein says her move into producing was prompted by her experience playing Veil, whom she knew personally and admired. Although she wasn’t credited as a producer on the movie, she was a driving force behind it, finding partners and convincing Olivier Dahan (“La Vie en Rose”) to direct. She first met Veil when she gave a speech in her honor at the Shoah Memorial at the University in Jerusalem and the two stayed in touch.

“When I made ‘Simone,’ I was fulfilling my duty of transmitting something precious about our history to younger generations. That’s what I want to do going forward,” says Zylberstein.

“After this pandemic, and seeing how successful ‘Simone’ was, I think people want to go to the cinemas to see films that have a meaning, or at least some truth and some sincerity,” says Zylberstein, who has been inspired by American actors such as Reese Witherspoon and Cate Blanchett. “Seeing what these women have accomplished is so empowering, and makes me wonder, ‘why couldn’t we do that in France as well?’” she says.

The actor-turned-producer met Fayyad at Venice and approached him with the project after seeing his two documentaries, The Cave and Last Men in Aleppo.

“I had Elise’s book translated and paid with my own money and sent it to him. And he said O.K., let’s do it,” Zylberstein says. She enlisted Braun, who had already penned “22 outstanding pages.”

Zylberstein will headline Kingdom of Hope through her U.S. banner Lili Films – named after her mother, who died abruptly during the shoot of “Simone.” The actor also launched Sonia Films, a production banner based in Paris.

Through Sonia Films, Zylberstein is also co-developing a TV series with Gaumont about Esther Perel, the intimacy therapist and New York Times bestselling author of “The State of Affairs” and “Mating in Captivity.”

“I met Esther about 12 years ago in L.A. and optioned her book, ‘Mating in Captivity.’ She’s the biggest sex therapist in the U.S. She’s been a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show,” says Zylberstein. Anne Berest, who previously collaborated to the script of Audrey Diwan’s “Happening” and created the series “Mythomaniac,” has already penned the series.

“I want this series to give a snapshot of today’s world when it comes to sex and love. I’d like it be what life is: funny and moving, with some depth to it,” says Zylberstein, who will play the part of Esther, whose parents are Holocaust survivor like hers.

Zylberstein has also optioned “Happy People Read and Drink Coffee,” a bestseller by Agnes Martin-Lugand. Book rights were previously held by Harvey Weinstein. She’s in discussion with Mediawan to co-produce. Other projects include a film that she’s producing with Philippe Carcassone, set to be directed by Anne Fontaine and penned by Hampton.

Zylberstein is one of the best-connected French actors. A testament to her resourcefulness, she notoriously got Quentin Tarantino to attend the screening of Claude Lelouch’s “Un plus une” at COLCOA (now the American French Film Festival) in Los Angeles in 2015.

Her movie I’ve Loved You for So Long was also a critical success that helped her gain international recognition, including in the U.S.

Zylberstein has been approached to play Sarah Bernhardt, the revered stage actress, in “The Rivals.” The script, penned by Robin Swicord (“Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), concerns the relationship between Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse.

“It’s such a brilliant project about the rivalry between these two stage icons. But it’s the kind of project difficult to finance in Hollywood these days,” says Zylberstein. And this is where she hopes bringing together European and American talent and resources, the best of both worlds.