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August 12, 2011

Dinner Out: Film Director Joann Sfar and a Hanger Steak

By Joshua David Stein | Dinner Out

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A portrait of the young editor as a dining companion. Photo Courtesy of the author

An occasional column in which we eat dinner out at a good restaurant with interesting people and then, at a later date, write about the experience.

Characters: Joann Sfar, the director of Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, an impressionistic biography of Serge Gainsbourg, the French singer profiled in our September issue. Also there: Karen Cooper, the impish founder of Film Forum (where the film will premiere August 31); Ed Arentz, the Richard Branson and Dustin Hoffman lookalike managing director of Music Box Films (the film's distributor); a few other cinema grandees; and lastly, me, a Departures editor and a huge fan of Gainsbourg—both the man and the movie.

Where: Hundred Acres, a rather nice New American restaurant in New York's SoHo, from the owners of the more ambitious Cookshop and the less ambitious Five Points. The waiters have beards and tattoos; the steak is served in a skillet; cornbread happens; succotash is deconstructed (or so it says on the menu).

Scene: By the time I arrived at dinner, Sfar—a dead ringer for a short-haired Antonio Banderas, though Sfar's provenance is Pied-Noir (father) and Ukrainian (mother) —already had his sketchbook out. "Oh my God," said Suzanne, the very exuberant woman next to me, noting the sketchings. "Fellini always did that!" Sfar started his career as a graphic novelist, often exploring themes of French and Eastern European Jewry. Gainsbourg, which also explores those issues, is Sfar's first film, though he has others in the works. "One is about liberals not being generous," he said mischievously, "but it's set in the 1800s." Earlier this summer, when I interviewed Sfar over the phone for Departures, I mentioned I had a tattoo of Gainsbourg on my back (it's true) from the singer's album Rock Around the Bunker. Shortly after sitting down, Sfar asked to see it. I disrobed—partially! —to show him. He was very excited. "You are," he said, with a charming accent, "a postmodern Jew! In France, Jews never have tattoos." Then he set about sketching me, which was distracting but also nice. Per Sfar's aesthetic I emerged on paper, multi-faced and with a prominent Semitic beak, much like—to my pleasure—our mutual hero, Serge Gainsbourg.

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