Isabel Coixet

Source: Venice Film Festival

Isabel Coixet

Isabel Coixet is in talks to direct Happy People Read And Drink Coffee, an adaptation of Agnes Martin-Lugand’s best-selling novel of the same name for Elsa Zylberstein’s fast-growing production company Sonia Films.

Mediawan Pictures is in advanced talks to co-produce the English and French-language film set between Paris and Ireland and is about a woman grieving her husband and daughter when a new love affair blossoms.

Zylberstein is also set to star in what is the latest project to be added to her female-focused film and TV slate.

The renowned French actress, whose recent international credits include roles in Jessica Hausner’s Club Zero and Woody Allen’s Venice premiere Coup De Chance, launched twin production companies, Los Angeles-based Lili Films and Paris-based Sonia Film, earlier this year to pursue a slate of female-driven ambitious features and series. She recently brought on longtime producer and former TFI International exec Jean-Charles Levy as head of development.

Projects in the works include a series about Belgian-American psychotherapist Esther Perel with Gaumont USA, to be produced via Lili Films, in which Zylberstein plans to play Perel. 

She is also developing features about French acupuncturist and humanitarian worker Elise Boghossian, to be directed by Feras Feyyad, the Oscar-winning Syrian director of The Cave director,  and French feminist intellectual Simone de Beauvoir,, to be directetd by Anne Fontaine. The latter two are both being producing through Sonia Films and Zylberstein will star in both.

The Simone de Beauvoir film is from a script by Christopher Hampton and is being co-produced with Marco and Lola Pacchioni’s Master Movie and Philippe Carcassone’s Cine@. The Paris and Chicago-set French and English-language film is based on the romance between de Beauvoir and writer Nelson Algren. The producers hope to find a US co-producer as much of the film takes place in Chicago.

Zylberstein is also developing a series based on real-life Mossad agent Sylvia Rafael. The as-yet-untitled series will be a fictionalised version of her life, set in a multiple countries. Peter Landesman, whose credits include Parkland, is set to write and direct and Zylberstein will star.

She is also in very early talks to adapt Helena Rubinstein’s biography for a feature film in the early stages of development. “She is such a unique woman – she was the first to launch lipstick as a tool to empower women and give them confidence,” says Zylberstein of the woman who was born in a shtetl in Poland before emigrating to Australia and launching one of the world’s first cosmetic companies.

“Who are the women who inspire us today and who have inspired us throughout history? Cinema is about transmission, so I want to tell their stories,” says Zylberstein of her editorial strategy.

Labour of love 

Elsa Zylberstein

Source: Veronique vial

Elsa Zylberstein

Zylberstein says the fire has been lit in her by the success of a film about another Simone, Simone: Woman Of The Century, a biopic of Simone Veil, who spent her life championing human rights after losing her family in the Holocaust. She died in 2017.

Directed by Olivier Dahan, the film sold 2.5 million tickets at the box office in France for Warner Bros to become the biggest local film of the 2022. It is now on release in the US via Samuel Goldwyn Films. It was the first film on which Zylberstein took a producing credit, a labour of love that was a decade in the making.  

She spearheaded and then developed the film with Romain Le Grand, Vivien Aslanian and Marco Pacchioni’s Marvelous Productions. She also  stars as Veil from age 37-87, sharing the role with breakout actress Rebecca Marder.

“I worked like crazy for a year. I was obsessed with her,” says Zylberstiein. “I didn’t want to play her. I wanted to become her. I gained 10 kilos for the role. I learned how to talk like her, mimicked the way she moved, changed my face to look like her and dressed like her.

“I’ve been wanting to produce for years, but Simone’s success gave me wings and the confidence I needed to pursue my ideas,” she explains.

“Simone Veil is the epitome of resilience, a woman who went through hell, a Holocaust survivor, a traumatized kid who ended up accomplishing incredible things. I wanted to show that I too could carve out my own path – as a producer, as a woman and an actress, and transmit that to other women.”

In addition to Veil, Zylberstein says the ethos of her new production drive has been inspired by US actress-producers Reese Witherspoon and Margot Robbie.

“When I see what they are doing, I think ‘why can’t we do the same thing in France and beyond?’” She adds: “It’s about being able to tell the stories I want to tell. I’ve had an incredible career in France, I’m not complaining, but now it’s time for something new.”