Having a mid-life crisis is hard enough without moving to a different country, learning a new language, adapting to a foreign culture – and then being right in the throes of a deadly terror attack.
But that’s exactly where TV writer and actor Eli Ben David found himself after he relocated from his native Tel Aviv to Paris with his French-born wife, Eleanor, when she was appointed as the Israeli cultural attaché in the French capital.
Just weeks after their arrival, Ben David was shocked to open his front door and find an armed security guard waiting outside as Paris came under siege in a series of deadly Islamist terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015.
Three suicide bombers struck outside the Stade de France in Saint-Denis during an international football match, before another group of attackers opened fire on crowded cafes and restaurants.
A third group carried out a mass shooting and took hostages at a rock concert inside the Bataclan theatre.More than 400 people were injured, while 130 more lost their lives following the events of that night.
For Ben David, it was impossible not to be reminded of those close to him who had been caught up in terror attacks back home and the “post-traumatic memories just flowed.”
It could have been a breaking point for the couple and their three children at the start of an otherwise new chapter in their lives, but Ben David worked through the upheaval by first keeping a diary – and then penning a compelling new drama based on his experiences.
The Attaché, which airs on Starzplay from Sunday, tells the story of Avshalom (played by Ben David), an Israeli-Jewish musician from a Moroccan family, who relocates to Paris after his wife Annabelle is appointed as the new attaché at the Israeli embassy.
But Avshalom swiftly begins to feel lost: he misses his friends, can’t speak French, believes antisemitism is everywhere and suffers a crisis of masculinity as he forgoes work to look after the couple’s young son.
In contrast, his French-born wife blossoms in Paris, where she is reunited with family and her career ambitions continue to soar.
Avshalom might be thousands of miles from home, but it’s the growing distance between himself and his wife that he fears most.
Just like the writer’s own experience, the opening episode shows how Avshalom is only newly arrived in the country when the 2015 attacks take place.
During a candid online chat alongside co-star Heloise Godet, who plays Annabelle, Ben David recalled how that night brought back memories
of his own father being caught up in a terror attack in Israel.
He tells me: “When I was teenager, my father used to work on an Israeli base, which you could only get to by bus. There were no smartphones in those days and there started to be rumours in the school that there had been an attack on this bus, with the terrorists shot and killed.
“I remember they told us to stay at school, but I took my bag and ran. When I reached the house, I saw my father sitting in the kitchen. He had been on this bus. So [when the 2015 attacks happened] it was totally post-traumatic for me.”
French-born actress Godet was also in the French capital when the terrorists opened fire at the cafes and restaurants close to where she lived.
“I think that my way of experiencing this huge, life-changing trauma was to be paralysed. I was shocked like everybody, but I didn’t know what
to do. When the bars reopened, we said we had to go, we have to do this as a way of survival.”
The attacks are, of course, just one part of the overall sense of unease Avshalom feels in having so much change in his life all at once or, as Godet explains it, “becoming the attaché of the attaché” in giving up his career to support his wife in her ambitions.
“Eli’s wife was very busy [and] independent, becoming one of the most important women in France,” she says. “So, the story really related to
his life in this way. It was a very challenging time for him.”
For Godet, too, changes were aplenty when she accepted the role just after becoming a first-time mother and went to Israel to immerse herself in
the culture and language.
“I was put in this Annabelle situation of dealing with motherhood, family and work. I felt myself in this emotional tornado,” she reveals with a smile.
Given all the original anxieties Ben David felt moving to France six years ago, does he feel more acclimatised to his adopted country’s way of life?
“I love Paris, I don’t feel racism, I don’t feel antisemitism at all. You know, I don’t want to go back now – I would love to spend more years here, maybe stay forever,” he says.
“The Attaché is a beautiful story like that, because it’s about someone who needs to go far away from home to find exactly what he’s been looking for.”
- The Attaché is released on Starzplay from Sunday, 14 March
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