Gad Elmaleh’s autobiographical film, “Reste un peu”, recreates a forbidden experience: the entry of a child into a church. Having reached middle age, observes journalist Louis Daufresne, Gad Elmaleh still comes up against the same insurmountable obstacle.
We knew that salvation would come from the Jews! At a time when the clergy jerkily empty the muddy vat of their concupiscence, one is surprised that a trendy and famous acrobat starts pushing the door of a church, smiling at the Virgin and above all making a film. Amazed, Catholics are still biting themselves to believe it. Could it be an apparition? They rush on him like locusts on Egypt.
Gad Elmaleh, acclaimed as a prophet, makes them cross the Red Sea of their ill-being, relieves them of complexes, comforts them: their faith is on the right side of history, finally! This little herd is so often taken to the slaughterhouse of mediocrity. In Stay a bit, the Catholics are nice (despite the scene of the retreat at the monastery where the grumbling mine of the actors in homespun robes does not make you want to stay at all, even a little). Let’s also leave aside the exegesis of cinephiles. The world politely notes that the comedian “takes us into the quicksand of an uncertain aesthetic zone, between autobiography, autofiction and mockumentary (“mockumentary”)”. Let’s go a little further in this same article, where Jacques Mandelbaum proffers that “all this inspires […] the greatest respect but explain […] rather badly the need for the uprooting which determined this movement, whose induced violence is largely minimized by the film”.
An unexplained obstacle
“Uprooting” and “violence”, these words dent the title of the World that “Gad Elmaleh chooses humor to evoke his intimate enlightenment”. Because, in truth, Stay a bit isn’t funny or incidentally is. Let’s say that his parents, his sister and the female rabbi are touching and fair and that he is like in real life, sincere and simple. A less immediate reading brings out a cold reality, that of identity confinement. Even at 50, even rich, even famous, even cool, even funny, Gad Elmaleh comes up against an insurmountable obstacle that is never explained, which is a great shame. Because without the total refusal of his milieu, there would have been no film. Stay a bit — let us dare to write it — restores a forbidden experience.
The comedian has the audacity to show it. We would like to know if he would have inflicted the same outrage on his family if he had announced to them that he had gone over to Islam or Buddhism. His parents or his sister never say why they consider his approach to Christianity as an unthought. They have no metaphysical questioning. However, Gad Elmaleh just asks questions that everyone can ask themselves in life. At no time does the comedian overwhelm those around him with religious gags or aggressive and obtuse evangelism, like a convert who cannot be stopped by excess. No way. At no time does it lack delicacy; at no time does he provoke those around him or commit blunders. And despite this restraint and this modesty, the threshold of intolerance to any idea of conversion is very quickly crossed.
An unfinished conversion
One might think that the efforts of the Catholic world to call itself tolerant and open would have made a transition to Christianity less painful, that Abbé Pierre or Mère Térésa had shifted the authoritarian image of the Church onto more consensual humanitarian ground than Torquemada had done it. These developments do not change the way the Christian religion is viewed. Stay a bit never question them.
The film freezes his traditionalist family in an attitude that contrasts with the evolved and intellectual image with which we associate Jewishness. It’s as if on the garden and camera side, we had BHL’s shirt open and that, on the courtyard side, everything closed on a ritual thought. A scene even shows his father taking gloves to grab a statue of the Virgin of Lourdes as if it were an evil object that was going to contaminate his home. One wonders if he even knows that the Marian city is a place of healing, including for people whose faith is not stamped.
With “Reste un peu”, we realize that culture, locked by laws, can prove to be impervious to all influence, to everything that does not come from itself and above all does not return to it.
The height is that the comedian may give pledges, say that he remains Jewish, that Mary and Jesus are Jews, that he denies nothing of his origins, that Jean-Marie Lustiger is his mentor, nothing Don’t: his nose smashes into an opaque, hard pane and prevents him from leaving his world. Stay a bit does not tell of a conversion, which remains unfinished (Gad Elmaleh seems to be waiting for his parents’ approval to complete his process). At no time is he seen participating in prayer groups or pilgrimages. His film does not plunge inside the church. On the other hand, with his camera, he raises the yarmulke of an entire mental universe.
We believed that mobility, erected everywhere as a value in itself, had become a shared evidence, that we could change religion as well as sex, spouse, country, that migration was the matrix of our lifestyles. With Stay a bit, we realize that culture, locked by laws, can prove to be impervious to all influence, to everything that does not come from itself and above all does not return to it. One begins to think that Islam obeys comparable rules. The fact that Christianity originated in the Jewish world does not give it a special place. The film does not approach the common heritage of the Old Testament, does not make it a ground for discussion.
If her family takes her role as educator to heart, if she knows how to remain faithful to principles that have survived centuries and persecutions, we say to ourselves that Stay a bit in fact a lot, almost too much, especially when a friend went to look for Isabella the Catholic (died in 1504!) to make the very idea of conversion unthinkable.
The forbidden is the red thread of this film, rather its white line. At the beginning, the voice of Gad Elmaleh wanders through the streets of Casablanca. When he was young, he says, Jews and Muslims had one thing in common: the parental injunction never to enter a church. He dared to do it. Years later, the comedian remembers the beauty of the place. The building was empty and he had only been there a little bit. But more than words, the look sculpts the soul and, therefore, we understand why his family forbade him to enter.
“Rest a bit” by Gad Elmaleh, with Gad Elmaleh, Régine Elmaleh, David Elmaleh. In theaters since November 16, 2022 (1h33).