Cohen Media Group Captures Paris: 'My Old Lady'

Some of my favorite movies are about Paris! How I loved “Funny Face” which made me love everything Audrey Hepburn did. How I loved “American in Paris” and Gene Kelly forever after. And the classic French films of Paris, from René Clair’s “The Rooftops of Paris”, “Modigliani of Montparnasse”, “Elevator to the Scaffold” to “Amelie”…oh la la!

Now a new Paris classic is in the making! If only they would change title to reflect the love of Paris transforming a couple of sad victims of their scandalously delicious parents’ love affair into lovers. Kevin Kline, a luminous Kirsten Scott Thomas and a decrepit but spirited Dame Maggie Smith star in a film, to be released September 10, which I only hope will come out with a different title.

Now entitled, “My Old Lady” (what’s that supposed to mean?) Dame Maggie Smith as Mathilde belongs to no one. A free spirit who had a dalliance with no less than …., at 92 she cannot be evicted from the apartment Kevin Kline comes to Paris to sell, an apartment hidden behind walls in Paris we wish we could penetrate and which Kevin Kline, in the character of Mathias Gold, cannot see, so intent is he on selling to procure some filthy lucre. I kept waiting for Kevin to embody his Academy Award winning hilarity in “A Fish Called Wanda”, but he played it straight, an unhappy, intellectual with great talent on the piano, three unpublished novels, three divorces and not a cent in his pocket. Angry, self-righteous Mathias Gold discovers that real-estate and relationships send him into a turmoil that he never imagined.

Adapted for the screen and directed by Israel Horowitz from his 2002 of-Broadway production, “My Old Lady” the property was further developed into a screenplay with Kevin Kline himself who dropped by the playwright’s Greenwich Village residence for intermittent readings as the film script branched out from its theatrical roots.

Dame Maggie Smith read the script and was the first actor to officially sign on to the film version. Israel Horovitz traveled to London to meet with her and she accepted the part amid 25 competing scripts offered to her at the time. Horovitz recalls Smith joking during the meeting that it was the only script in the stack that didn’t end with her character dying. Adds Horovitz: “To my knowledge, it’s the first time Dame Maggie’s done a movie in which she doesn’t wear a wig.”

Produced by the writer-director’s own daughter, the well-known-in-our-circles- from-her-days-at-New Line (and later at Revolution Studios), who began her career as a publicist of Dino De Laurentiis on the film “Blue Velvet” which I happened to foster as the acquisitions executive at Lorimar when we acquired it: Rachael Horovitz (“Moneyball”, HBO’s “Grey Gardens”) and Gary Foster (“The Soloist”, “Sleepless in Seattle”), got the script to Kristin Scott Thomas who immediately signed on to play Mathilde’s confrontational daughter Chloé. The main casting was complete.

Chloé takes the story away from the developing and deepening relationship between Mattias and Mathilde and makes it her own…thus the misplaced title of the movie. It is no longer Mattias and “his old lady” Mathilde’s story but the threesome’s, and what a great story it is.

Complex and compelling, the story of two people who have been destroyed by the same love affair understand each other’s problems better than any fourth party could ever understand, and we, as the fourth party, are given access to their journey towards love…in Paris. Only in Paris could these events unfold with such panache.

The other supporting actors are those veteran French actors you have seen and loved in other Parisian settings. Dominique Pinon as the helpful real-estate agent Lefebre who explains the complex codes of the “viager” system” appears like an old friend to those of us who saw and loved Jean-Jacques Beineix’s “Diva”, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” and “A Very Long Engagement”, “City of Lost Children” and Jeunet’s and Marc Caro’s 1991 film “ Delicatessen”. Noémi Lvovsky, the writer-director-actress who plays Mme. Girard’s physician, actor-director Stéphane Friess (“Welcome to the Sticks”) and the rapacious property developer Francois Roy who wants to buy Mathias’ apartment and turn it into a sleek hotel – as his father tried to do a generation earlier (how French!) -- round out a great supporting cast.

But without Paris, this familiar and yet totally unfamiliar Paris, the film would never have played out with such love. As a Paris habituée of many years, I kept searching for signs to tell me where this apartment was located. Was it a hotel particulière of the Marais?

Here is a little known secret of Paris: It was shot in la Manufature, located in les Gobelins in Paris’s 13th Arrondisement, operated and maintained by the French Ministry of Culture. A vast complex comprising several main buildings and a slew of apartments (now used to house government functionaries), la Manufacture is the historical site of tapestry manufacturing for French royalty dating from the 17th century to the present day. Because there is no longer a huge demand for artisan tapestries in France, la Manufacture doubles as an ersatz soundstage for film and television productions, in this case standing in for the more central and tourist trod Marais, where Mme. Girard and Chloé reside. The Girard’s sprawling residence, overlooking a verdant garden came to life. Israel Horovitz and his crew jumped at the opportunity to film there.

He says, “Almost the entire movie was shot inside the compound. At one point in its history, la Manufacture was its own city within the city, with a thousand people living there. We could park our trucks inside the gated compound and shoot in a way we never could in the busy Marais. Finding the apartment we used, with its creaky floors and general disrepair, was really what made the movie possible. It was like having our own little studio.” The film shot in Paris for 24 days in autumn 2013.

At 75, Horovitz -- a veteran playwright who wrote “The Strawberry Statement” which won the Jury Prize at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival and who collaborated with István Szabó on the 1999 historical drama “Sunshine” about a Jewish family living in Hungary during the turbulent first half of the 20th century –decided to direct this, his first, film as he wrote the screenplay.

How was it working for your father? One might ask Rachael. Her answer: “He was the most prepared director I’ve ever worked with.” She praises Horovitz pére for his professionalism, sense of humor and grace under pressure, each one a boon for the intimate, familial-themed “My Old Lady”. “There is real humanity in this film thanks to those factors, “ she concludes. “Working with a family member is always a pleasure because there is the shorthand of communication you have with very few others.”

Producer Gary Foster also praises Israel Horovitz for his human touch, including his considerable grasp of human nature and conflict. “This movie is at its core about family and how people deal with the many challenges of their lives, “Foster states. “Everyone has harbored secrets at some point. ‘My Old Lady’ examines how people with secrets reveal themselves emotionally in order to locate truth. What’s special about Israel’s craft is how organic and truthful it feels. So much of this movie depends on the actors working with dialogue-rich scenes set inside cramped rooms with little action and no special effects – you have to buy into the dimensionality of these characters. Israel is at his best writing and directing scenes that feel real, al though you were a fly on the wall amid the revealing of this family’s secrets. He’s not afraid of being overly sentimental and open with emotions, and I think that’s hugely valuable.”

I completely agree. This is a marvelous movie, filled with marvels of France and family.

The Jewish side of this film is never touched on, but I must touch on it here because in these days of turmoil over the Jewish state and the state of the Jews living in the Diaspora, those in France are also in fearful flux. But this shows a France at its splendid best today and I think it is because of the love the filmmakers have for the story, the craft and the country. Producer David C. Barrot produced “ Eyes Wide Open” the 2009 Cannes’ Un Certain Regard film that dared open the subject of homosexuality in Jerusalem’s Orthodox community. I cannot speak of the provenance of Daniel Battsek the Executive Producer who between 1985 and 1991, was managing director of Palace Pictures where he was involved in all aspects of marketing, distribution and acquisitions in the U.K. and Ireland. He began his industry career at The Hoyts Film Corporation in Sydney where he quickly rose through the ranks to general manager in Victoria State overseeing distribution.

Battsek was first introduced to Disney in 1991, when he was asked to start up a U.K. Company as part of the worldwide distribution network for Buena Vista International. In 1992, he officially joined The Walt Disney Studios. Battsek was quickly promoted to vice president/managing director where he handled all aspects of theatrical film distribution in the U.K. He was later promoted to vice president, managing director and European acquisitions director of Bvi (U.K.) Limited. His responsibilities also included involvement in the acquisition of distribution rights across numerous territories for such films as “Muriel's Wedding”, “Shine”, “Central Station”, “Kolya”, and “ Ice Storm”. In 1998, he was promoted to senior vice president, Bvi (U.K.) Limited where he oversaw approximately 35 films per year from the Disney, Touchstone and Miramax labels. With his expanding role, Battsek began acquiring and developing British film projects for worldwide distribution. He created the Bvi U.K. Comedy Label which produced four films, likeHigh Heels and Low Lifes,Hope Springs,Calendar Girls, and Kinky Boots.

On 24 July 2005, he was named President of Miramax Films, after Harvey and Bob Weinstein left the company, due to creative and financial differences with Disney exec, Michael Eisner. Since he took control of the company, Miramax released such films asThe Queen,No Country for Old Men or Doubt, refocusing on producing films of high quality but low budget and was instrumental in acquiring, green-lighting or distributing such renowned and award winning films as “Tsotsi” winner of Best Foreign Language Oscar, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, “There will be Blood” among others. On 20 January 2010, Battsek became President of National Geographic Films where he brought in the Oscar-nominated “Restrepo”. He is now President of Cohen Media Group where he plays a key role.

Nor can I speak authoritatively of Producer, Nitsa Benchetrit, and Executive Producers, Raphaël Benoliel, Russ Krasnoff, but I have my suspicions. Certainly the Executive Producer, President and CEO of Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation, one of the country’s most important commercial real estate owners/ developers s well as an influential patron, innovator and visionary of culture and the arts, Charles S. Cohen (also founder of The Cohen Media Group in 2008, on the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Moca) in Los Angeles, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, The Lighthouse International Theater, The Public Theater, the Stella Adler Studio and the Film Society of Lincoln Center) is living up to his name.

Even Kevin Kline suddenly seems to land inside this charmed circle of Diaspora Jews whose development and dedication to the finest

arts of the 21 st century must be praised and seen as a flowering of culture today.

While this is in no way a film which may ever be shown in the Jewish film festival circuit, it should be remarked that it is, in its way, a Jewish film because of the credentials of the filmmakers, because of the loving treatment of the neurotic family members and because it shows the natural habituation of people allowed to live in freedom in a society which values life.

I bring all this up in light of the reevaluation occurring today in the worlds of gender and religions and I want to go on record as pointing out that this film is an example of the flowering of culture; this is part of the culmination of centuries of developing a humane, forgiving and civilized way of life.

I say this as I contemplate the state of the world today to remind myself that art, not war, is my choice for my life and I believe the film is an affirmation of life above all.

Chapeau, Hats Off to the team that brought this film to life. Just change the title if you want to attract more people!

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