CANNES, France — As unlikely as it may seem these days, there was once a time when seemingly all of France worshipped an Israeli Jew. In 1975, the 28-year-old pop singer Mike Brant was at the peak of his popularity, adored by fans in his native Israel and around the world, when he jumped to his death from his Paris apartment.
In “Let Me Love You,” filmmaker Erez Laufer attempts to separate fact from myth in Brant’s life while exploring celebrity culture in the 1970s through interviews with Laufer’s family, former girlfriends and music producers. The documentary, which was widely applauded at the recent Cannes Film Festival, will screen in July at the Israeli Film Festival in New York.
Laufer felt especially moved being able to share Brant’s story at Cannes because 33 years ago the singer gave his first French concert here during the International Music Market.
After a glamorous party on the beach, where guests listened to the music of the late singer, Laufer remained fresh enough to talk to the Forward about his movie.
“I was 13 when Mike Brant died,” said Laufer, who is well known for his portraits of singers, including the 1997 film “Zehava Ben — The Solitary Star” about an Israeli singer who also performed for Palestinians. “My mother, a Moroccan Jew, was in real shock, like a lot of other women in Israel and France. Then one day, I was talking with the Israeli singer Boaz Piper about Brant, and within a few hours my decision was made to make this [film].”
“Let Me Love You” begins with Brant’s youth in downtown Haifa. He was born Moishe Brand to a Polish family haunted by the Holocaust. He grew up to be handsome and charismatic, making him ideal prey for music producers, and the film conveys how a lack of freedom eroded his spirit over the years.
“I feel funny,” Laufer admitted, “because my movie criticizes show business, but here I am, surrounded by stars, sipping champagne and enjoying every minute of it!”
“Let Me Love You” was one of three Israeli features (in addition to a short) presented at Cannes, more than in previous years. Laufer believes Israeli cinema has been in a revival phase the last two years and that audience tastes have been expanding.
“Since my documentary is not political, I find it reassuring to realize that Europeans don’t only respond to Israeli movies that denounce their government,” Laufer said. “I make political movies too, but sometimes it is more powerful to reach the heart of a greater public than making a point that unfortunately won’t change the face of the world. I simply prefer to make intelligent movies that reach more people than intellectual movies that reach just a handful.”
Karine Cohen is a French journalist living in New York.