Who is Gad Elmaleh, Carolina de Monaco’s former son

Charlotte Casiraghi, daughter of Carolina de Monaco, and her partner, the Franco-Moroccan comic actor Gad Elmaleh, in Monaco, in 2013 (REUTERS/Valery Hache/Pool)

Gad Elmaleh returns to Paris, after three years of absence. He tells his friends, his parents and his sister that he brought him nostalgia. But it turns out that he also returned to start the path of a religious conversion…

Fact and fiction, that is the argument of “Subtract a peu” (“Stay a little”), the last film by this famous French-Moroccan actor, semi-autobiographical, which he directs and in which he stars with his parents and sister. Everyone plays themselves in this comedy about a Sephardic Jewish family confronted with the Catholic “coming out” of one of its members who suddenly manifests an intense attraction to the Virgin Mary.

In parallel with the release of the film, Elmaleh whitened his path of conversion to Catholicism in an interview with the newspaper le figaro. Although he stops short of saying whether or not she will be baptized, he reveals that he initiated the catechumenate -teaching and deepening the Catholic faith for those who wish to be baptized- and proclaims, with the humor and fine irony that have always characterized him: “The true heroine of my film is the Virgin Mary, despite my mother’s regret.”

Gad Elmaleh and his mother, protagonists of the actor's latest film
Gad Elmaleh and his mother, protagonists of the actor’s latest film

Elmaleh, 51, with a long career in theater and cinema, former partner of Charlotte Casiraghidaughter of Caroline of Monacoand father of her son Raphaël (9 years old), recounts that conversion process in a comedy tone, the genre that launched him to fame.

Last September, I had already anticipated that I would attend classes of Theology in the School of the Bernardines in Paris, and that those courses fascinated him. Earlier, in 2019, he produced the international tour of a musical comedy about the life of Bernadette Soubirousthe girl to whom the Virgin appeared in Lourdes, southern France.

But Elmaleh locates the beginning of his fascination with Catholicism, much earlier, in his childhood in Casablanca –where he was born in 1971-, when, secretly, he entered a Catholic church: “I entered without the consent of my parents, pushed the door of the church and found myself face to face with a gigantic representation of the Holy Virgin who was staring at me to the eyes. It wasn’t a vision, just a simple statue, but I was petrified. I started crying and hid for fear of being found out by my family, for fear of curses and superstition. I kept it a secret throughout my childhood.” “The Virgin Mary was my greatest cup of foudre (love)”joke now.

On his Instagram, Elmaleh celebrated the number of viewers: with the hashtag brotherhood, it was said "moved" due to the fact that the film "is creating dialogue, exchange, debate"
On his Instagram, Elmaleh celebrated the number of viewers: with the hashtag brotherhood, he said he was “moved” by the fact that the film “is creating dialogue, exchange, debate.”

In the year 2019, Elmaleh visited lourdes for the first time and was fascinated by what he saw in that famous sanctuary in France. Going there made him reconsider many prejudices about cathos (short for catholiques). “The young Catholics that I saw in Lourdes helping the sick in the sanctuary, spending their time listening to them, lending a hand to the disabled, do not fit into any of the clichés about cathos (…) …they are the same as any other young person in France, but they also have the awareness of reaching out. If it is the consequence of a religious feeling, so much the better!”

Years after his “crush” in Morocco, Elmaleh wanted to know which church that was: “Intrigued, I made my inquiries, called friends from the place… and found out that the church whose door I had pushed in is the one in Our Lady of Lourdes in Casablanca! Let everyone believe what they want, but I know what I want to believe…”

Gad Elmaleh’s film has hilarious moments such as when his sister asks him why he doesn’t have a 50-year-old crisis “like everyone else’s”, “why don’t you buy a low car -sports- and get yourself a girl high and you leave us alone ”, he blurts out. As can be seen, the actor laughs at himself, also at his family and friends, but with height and delicacy.

Gad Elmaleh, in March 2020 (REUTERS / Gonzalo Fuentes)
Gad Elmaleh, in March 2020 (REUTERS / Gonzalo Fuentes)

On the other hand, although it is a comedy, critics agree that “Resta un peu” inspires many deep reflections. From the confrontation of this Jewish family with the Christian world, evidence of the human propensity to caricature or stigmatize the unknown emerges. Precisely, the intention of Gad Elmaleh is build bridges between people of different confessions because he is convinced that, by getting to know each other, conflicts and prejudices are reduced.

The theme of the film -a Jew who is getting ready to be baptized and renounce his religion- is certainly risky, because the religious question is very sensitive in today’s society; in France in particular, in the words of Elmaleh himself, there are a “twitch” around the issue, after the string of attacks motivated by religion or, rather, for the justification of which religion has been used.

Elmaleh rises to the challenge, judging by the critical reception and the public success – he has already surpassed the 400 thousand viewers in France since its premiere on November 16-; and this despite the fact that he does not shy away from teasing religious extremisms, stereotypes and mutual prejudices.

Although the plot of the film or, rather, Elmaleh’s decision to convert, may be shocking to some, its purpose is not to confront but to unite.

Gad Elmaleh was received by Pope Francis on December 23
Gad Elmaleh was received by Pope Francis on December 23

Elmaleh says he is surprised because in France “a vast majority of Catholics do not live their faith openly”, unlike other confessions. In his shows, he makes a lot of humor with this topic, “provoking” Catholics who have a hard time assuming themselves as such. “There are always a discomfort, an attitude that is thought to please the interlocutor -says Elmaleh-. I am in favor of secularism, but I like to listen to the word of the people, their faith, this film really frees the word. Since I did it I have the impression of having made a coming out and many friends tell me that they also have (religious) concerns, there is something very liberating…”

In a video for the secular Catholic site Aleteia, the actor lovingly imitated that attitude of French Catholics. He says that he provokes them because of this contention around the subject: “In short, Catholic, yes, I am, in short, I am cató…. -he imitates them-, yeah, yeah, if you like, anyway, it’s complicated… yes, I’m Catholic, cató….” And he jokes that they don’t even pronounce the whole word… You can see the excerpt below:

Gad Elmaleh encourages Catholics to assume themselves without complexes

The analyst Philippe Bilger, commenting on the film in causeur, says: “It took courage, in today’s world, to communicate a kind of conversion, impregnated with infinite tolerance towards other religions (and) love for the Virgin Mary.” “As Gad Elmaleh himself said, ‘it’s not attractive to be a Catholic’, which is why his film challenges all prejudices,” adds Bilger, who also points out that some of his colleagues expressed “an offended surprise , as if adherence to Catholicism were a defect”…

About his film, Gad Elmaleh told flapping: “It’s a comedy. Spirituality and religion do not prevent laughing; not from faith or from religion but with them, creating a bridge between the communities, that is my fight”. And about his childhood mystical experience, he wonders: “Why did they forbid me to enter this beautiful, welcoming place… I hope the film makes people talk, that the communities speak to get to know each other, and that we reflect on the presence of spirituality in our lives”.

Elmaleh says that, even in the context of a secular state, “we have the right, the duty, to instill this idea of ​​spirituality in children, to tell them that in French society some go to the temple, others to the mosque, others to the synagogue, because that opens, demystifies, connects”. He considers it necessary because “the relationship with religion in France is tensefor historical reasons, but we can open ourselves to a search, an investigation, an introspection, to a light, in this way problems are avoided, intercommunity tensions”.

Among his future projects are the psalms, in hebrew Tehillim, the book shared by the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible. “I would like, for example, to do a crossed reading of the Psalms, with artists of different confessions, Muslims, Christians, Jews, that interests me, the Psalms interest me a lot.”

His other interest is a character that “fascinates” him, Charles de Foucault, the aristocrat and soldier, who became a fervent believer and entered the priesthood; canonized by Francis in May 2022.

Elmaleh showed Pope Francis excerpts from his film
Elmaleh showed Pope Francis excerpts from his film

On December 23, Gad Elmaleh showed the Argentine pontiff some excerpts from his film in a private audience. The actor later recounted: “There were many emotions. He is a charming, brilliant, funny man. We talked about deep topics and we also had a lot of laughs. It was not an audience but a meeting. I had prepared everything, but in the end I let myself be guided by my heart, because I connected with someone (who) speaks from heart to heart.” They spoke “about brotherhood between peoples and interreligious dialogue”, topics dear to Pope Francis.

There was also time for football: he had just finished school Qatar World Cup. Francisco told him about his country, Morocco: “He congratulated me, thumbs up.”

Finally, Gad Elmaleh summarized the deep reflection on his spiritual search that he shared with Francis: “I always keep in mind the phrase of Cardinal (Jean-Marie) Lustiger [N. de la R: el célebre arzobispo de París que era de origen judío] which closes the film and which is summarized as follows: ‘Embracing Christianity, I have rediscovered the values ​​of Judaism, I have deepened them, far from denying them’. There are people who do not want to understand this. I have never been so close to the Torah since I discovered Maria and to Christianity. Some Catholics would want to see me break with Judaism, some Jews would want the opposite. then i I look at the Hanukkah light and the Christmas light. I use it to explain a path, a path of fraternity, of respect, of listening, to which I have been called. More than ever, I want the light together with my Catholic, Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis praised the Moroccan team, Gad Elmaleh's home country
Pope Francis praised the Moroccan team, Gad Elmaleh’s home country

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Who is Gad Elmaleh, Carolina de Monaco’s former son-in-law who converted to Catholicism and told it in a blockbuster film