Even in France, where screen performers like Fernandel and Michel Simon exulted in their ugliness, the Jewish actor Daniel Emilfork (born Daniel Emilfork Berenstein in Chile; 1924-2006) remains unique.
Emilfork’s startlingly bizarre appearance is best known to American film-goers from 1995’s “The City of Lost Children.” In that dystopian fantasy film, Emilfork gave an uncharacteristically vehement performance, whereas during a career which included Cukor’s “Travels with My Aunt” (1972) and Fellini’s “Casanova” (1976), he was a master of cool underplaying, allowing his face to speak for itself.
A recent memoir, “Daniel” by his friend, critic François Jonquet, gives an intimate portrait of Emilfork as a proud Jew whose aristocratic bearing belied the poverty in which he lived. Emilfork came from an Odessa Jewish family (originally named Zapognikof) who fled the pogroms to Chile. There, some distinguished arts personalities continue the family tradition, including the excellent Chilean guitarist Nicolas Emilfork, a grandson of Daniel’s first cousin (see YouTube video below).