By going to see Stay a bit, three fears inhabited me: that amateur actors are as full of zeal as devoid of profession; that the plot is so autobiographical that it is closer to the documentary than to the real narration; that the intention is secretly proselytizing.
When, in the dark room where I was pleasantly surprised by the number of spectators, the film began, the first images borrowed from the Elmaleh family archives (amateur videos), then those taken in Casablanca against a background of voices off of today’s Gad, have only increased my fear of being disappointed. But very quickly, I was gripped by the story. No, I was not attending a retrospective of the spiritual quest of this so nice fifty-something or, worse, a film of “patro”. Yes, the suspense is real, the pace brisk, the twists and turns, the unexpected twists, the truly surprising ending. Yes, some replies hit home – like the one, apparently improvised, from Régine: “You change God, you change parents. Get adopted ».
Yes, the emotions are there, among the characters, but also, communicative, among the spectators: more than once, I laughed heartily and the room too; more than once too, I was moved, especially during the powerful moments of communion between Gad, his parents and his sister, even more so when they decided to join him reluctantly but with heart for the ceremony, or when Régine speaks with rare truth to another mother who, too, has lost her son. And the animated discussions when the light came back showed the interest of the spectators, I was going to say the participants.
To be sure, the acting of the actors is sometimes awkward; but, very quickly, I was touched by their personal and emotional involvement (like the moving paternal confession, which could only be expressed in a foreign language: ” I am your father and you are my best friend “). Just as they gradually forgot the camera, so I gradually forgot that they were part of Gad’s family or friends to, paradoxically, identify them with this family, carnal and/or spiritual. Besides, was I embarrassed when I felt this side borrowed from the actors of Éric Rohmer’s films that I love so much?
Certainly, some details lack rigor and truth: have we ever seen the equivalent of an abbot playing the hotel brother and a hotel brother whose mission is relational so sullen? ; Are the hours of the divine office, like “the” vesper (sic!) therefore masses? ; do adult baptisms take place outside the Easter Vigil today? But, I repeat, these details give way to the invigorating exhortation to stop repressing the religious in the name of sacrosanct secularism and displaying their Catholic identity with shame.
Finally, while watching the feature film, I never perceived this good intention and these good feelings which make neither good literature, nor good cinema, nor moreover an authentic work of art. Admittedly, because Gad does not seek to answer the objections, if not powerfully argued, at least strongly launched by cousin Eric (Rony Kramer), nor to defend himself against the fine deconstruction proposed by the rabbi who shows him how much, in his sketches, he is as quick to slip into someone else’s skin (the blonde, etc.) as he is slow to say who he is – precisely because he is Jewish. Certainly also, because Gad is never in reaction or bitterness, but constantly seeks to safeguard the link with his loved ones and the continuity with what he has received from them, starting with the Jewish faith – hence his affinity with Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, from whom he borrows the film’s final quote.
But above all, because, at every moment, one senses that the main protagonist speaks from his experience, with a rare fidelity not only to the founding event (now told a hundred times and well known) of the loving encounter and protector of the Virgin Mary, but also to her present history (“She has been with me since I was little”). Also, because he never ceases to listen attentively to each person, each reflection, each objection, until he lets himself be moved – for example by this paradox so typically rabbinic: “Blessed is he who does not ask his way to those who know him, otherwise he loses the chance of getting lost! ». Also, because he does not hesitate to express a vulnerability that goes as far as cowardice and lies (but the lightest lie there is, the one dictated by the intention of not making those whom he likes).
Nevertheless, on leaving the film, I was inhabited by a double frustration. The first, of course (note, spoiler definitive…), because, at the very last moment and without explanation, Gad slips away from the baptism. The second, because Gad never gives any other reason for his conversion to Catholicism than the ever-tested and never denied protection of the Virgin.
Now, this double impression of incompleteness converges: what or rather he who is most cruelly lacking in the sacred history of Gad is Christ himself. Christianity is a conversion to Christ through Christ. And if Mary intervenes, it is because she intervenes, like an authentic mother who, far from keeping her son for herself, gives him to others. In fact, if we see Gad praying, we never see him reading the Word of God, scrutinizing the unity of the two Testaments, participating in the Eucharist. If it is insufficient to stay at this ” als obas if”, typically Kantian “Live as if God exists and see if that changes”, if Gad is wrong to affirm: “To have faith is to have doubt”that he is right to make Mary say: “I know what you’re telling yourself: I didn’t go all the way”. Gad offers us a discreet, but assured guarantee of this: after the quote from the Archbishop of Paris, he dedicates his film to a certain Guy Moign. He identifies with Raymond, the old man whom Anna (Amélie Melkonian) visits. However, this skeptic who reminds him of the importance of the antiseptic (that is to say the dogmatic!), offers Gad a fine example of evolution, by tearing himself away from his fascination for conspiracy. By giving particular weight to this figure, does he not indicate, sweeten and fortifyhow many, too, is in the making?
Anyone expecting to see a film about faith, a plea for tolerance and, even more, dialogue between religions, will not be disappointed. But there is more. Anyone expecting to see a film about the conversion will be disappointed, because there is less. It is, and it is already huge, a film about a person who is on a journey and on a spiritual journey. From a known and recognized artist who, as simple in real life as on stage, has decided to live flush with this restless desire for God who is promised happiness. How not to wish him to recognize that this path has a name, the very one that he states for a moment in the film: “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life” (Jn 14,6)!
But is Christ so absent as I said? A few traces among many. Raymond, isn’t he the one at whose feet Gad kneels to wash his feet? And it is at the feet of Notre Dame that, in the very last scene of the film which makes inclusion with the first, we find him, suffused with a soft bluish light. When, in an unexpected gesture of compassion, Anna gives a candle to Gad, she quotes a saying of Saint Paul: “Carry one another’s burdens” (Ga 6,22). Now, the sentence ends in this way: “and thus you will fulfill the law [Torah] of Christ”.
Father Pascal Ide
“Reste un peu”, French comedy and biopic by Gad Elmaleh, 2022. With Gad Elmaleh, David Elmaleh and Régine Elmaleh (his parents).