Writing “The Attaché,” Eli Ben-David used the process as therapy.
The series was, after all, semi-autobiographical.
“If somebody asks you to do it, don’t,” he says with a laugh. “This was an intense yet amazing project to be part of.”
“The Attaché” airs on Acorn TV.
The series tells the story of Avshalom, played by Ben-David, who goes from living close to the sun, sea and his friends in Tel Aviv to being an anonymous immigrant in a foreign land.
Avshalom is a successful musician and Israeli Jewish man of Moroccan descent.
As if all this weren’t enough, his arrival in Paris falls on the same days as the largest terror attack in French history.
It seems to Avshalom that Paris itself, or maybe all of Europe, is experiencing a transition along with him.
Unlike Avshalom, his wife, Annabelle, played by Héloïse Godet, blooms in Paris. Before his perplexed eyes, she becomes a busy Paris career woman – wittier than ever before, busier than ever before, speaking a language he does not understand. His wife works as an attaché to the Israeli Embassy.
Despite the geographical distance that separates Avshalom from his country, friends, family and career, what he fears most is the growing distance between himself and Annabelle, his wife, his love.
Ben-David says the story is about a man who is a fish out of water in Paris while experiencing a change in identity and a midlife crisis – while in love.
“Avshalom feels lost and is envious of her direction in life,” he says. “The action of the series surrounds events of 2015: my Israeli roots, security, and the Paris attacks – all which brought me back home emotionally.”
Because he stars in and wrote the series, Ben-David says, the project was difficult at times. Some moments stand out in his mind.
In fact, he says, in the first episode, Avshalom is running from the police during the terror attacks in Paris in 2015.
“While filming the chase, I recalled a terrorist attack that took place when I was a teenager in Israel around 30 years ago,” he says. “It took place on a bus, which was transporting workers, and my father was one of them. There were rumors about whether there were survivors. I snuck out of school and remember running to my house in Israel in the intense summer heat, without even knowing whether my dad was lying dead or in a hospital. When I got home, I was hugely relieved that my father was there making himself eggs, in post-traumatic shock. I know it’s not in the series, but for me, this was on my mind as we shot the chase sequence.”
He took inspiration from his own life for the series. He’s been married for almost 20 years, and his wife was born in France and raised in Belgium.
“She found out about an open cultural attaché position in Paris. I didn’t take it that seriously, but seemingly the next day, she said, ‘All right, we’re off – it’s time for me to go back home,’ ” he says. “My parents taught me not to mess around with people’s dreams – I felt this was a huge dream for her, a great challenge that she needed to take on. Though I was busy director/filmmaker in Israel, we moved to Paris in 2015, which was when Europe had changed a lot. When we landed, security was very, very fragile. I saw Paris’ transformation right before my eyes, and my experiences during that time inspired this series. It was like hell in the beginning – I didn’t understand the language. I remember I wrote the series the same time as living those experiences – you know when you’re writing a series, most of the time you’re having at least 1, 2, 3 years of perspective? I was writing it live.
Although the series is filmed overseas, Acorn TV is giving American audiences a chance to view the show.
Ben-David says there are a lot of takeaways from the show, the biggest being that we have all felt like a fish out of water.
“It’s about crisis and identity,” he says. “There’s a lot of inspiration in this, because I’m an Israeli Jew with Arab roots. I feel it will always be in Jews’ DNA to feel like a fish out of water because of our language, our roots, the history of our people and our tragedies.”
Ben-David says the third episode addresses that. In a scene at his son’s school, Avshalom asked the principal in broken French whether the school had any Jewish students other than Uri. In response, the principal took Avshalom around the corner and showed him a commemorative plaque for the Jewish children who attended the school but had died in the Holocaust.
“He was in shock. He’s in Paris with his son, and he doesn’t know the language. It was already so difficult and complicated, and then he noticed the plaque and its meaning really hit him hard,” he says. “I started to write that scene that day. Also, this is a universal love story. I married a strong woman, and our family became uprooted because of her job opportunity – it’s about women power, about change. Historically families have relocated because of a husband’s new job and now it’s her turn. I feel many Americans can connect with that.”