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My Wife is an Actress--a French Film about Insecurity and Circumcision

A charming French film My Wife is an Actress looks at the difficulties a Jewish sports writer Yvan (Israeli-born Yvan Attal) has with his wife Charlotte's career as an actress.

Interwoven is the story of Yvan's sister Nathalie (Noemie Lvovsky) and her husband Vincent (Ludivine Sagnier). Nathalie is newly pregnant, and she and Vincent disagree over what to name and whether to circumcise the child.

Both couples are intermarried.

The fact that Attal, the screenwriter, director and male star, is in reality intermarried to the female star Charlotte Gainsbourg adds a layer of complexity to the film. Viewers can't help but wonder how much is based on their actual lives.

The film features many small moments that work beautifully. The first occurs when the two couples are out for dinner, celebrating Nathalie's pregnancy. While Vincent suggests typical French names such as Jules or Jean for the baby, Nathalie counters with the traditional Jewish name Abraham. When Vincent rejects Abraham, saying next she'll want Moses, Nathalie replies that she finds Moses sexy. Clearly, Nathalie and Vincent have totally different sensibilities regarding what is appealing and appropriate.

Later, during that same meal, Charlotte goes to the ladies room--in this film actresses drink a lot of water and frequently go to the bathroom. While she is gone, an autograph seeker comes to the table to see if she is really Charlotte, the famous actress. The interruption of the meal, the shared glances around the table, and the strained attempts to be polite, all convey a believable and intimate moment.

While Yvan tries hard to accept the constant intrusions that come from living with a celebrity, his insecurities are provoked by encounters he has with men who lust after his wife. When one fan asks him how he can stand being married to a woman whose job requires that she make love with other men, Yvan's finds his equilibrium deeply shaken.

In one poignant scene after Yvan has alienated Charlotte with baseless jealousy and suspicion, he visits her on the set of her new film. Charlotte and her leading man John (Terence Stamp) have become comfortable with each other in that environment, and almost anything Yvan says seems wrong. Although Yvan is Charlotte's husband, in that setting he, not John, is the odd man out.

Enhancing the theme of male insecurity, Nathalie and Vincent argue over whether to circumcise their son. Nathalie wants to ask a Jewish doctor if circumcision is advisable, while Vincent sardonically counters, "Let's find a doctor who is a goy." Nathalie responds, "Are there any?"

When Vincent resists the notion of having his son circumcised, saying he wants his son to look like him, Nathalie fliply says, "If that is so important to you, get circumcised yourself." But Vincent feels perplexed that this ritual is so important to his wife, who only goes to synagogue once a year. He turns to Yvan, who replies, "It's not religious, it's sentimental."

By the end of the film, Nathalie has carried the day, and her new baby, Moses, will indeed be circumcised. Meanwhile, Charlotte learns that she is pregnant, and soon she and Yvan will be facing similar issues.

It's rare to find a film that manages to be both amusing and intelligent, but My Wife Is an Actress succeeds at both. The acting is uniformly superb, and the circumcision theme should have particular resonance for many interfaith couples.

If you can't find it at your local movie theatre, it should soon be available on DVD or video.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Yiddish for "gentile," or someone who is not Jewish. Some use this term with affection, however it's still largely understood to have a derogatory connotation.
Ronnie Friedland

Ronnie Friedland was the founding Web Magazine Editor of InterfaithFamily.

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