For this edition of Expat Files, we flip it and reverse it. Instead of an American in Paris, we’re profiling a Parisienne in America: Anissa Bonnefont.
Anissa is the French girlfriend every expat wants to have. She’s unquestionably Parisian with an international POV: fluent in English, lived in New York, married to an Italian. Our daughters met in the neighborhood park and were the ones to introduce us! Dman and I were thrilled to finally meet a multiculti couple who were cool, creative, lived in the quartier and had kids the same age as ours. And we were crushed when they moved to Los Angeles a year-and-a-half ago.
Anissa and her husband, Andrea Di Stefano, are both actor-writer-directors so the West Coast move made sense. In between raising two little Californians, Anissa has been busy writing feature-length scripts and has launched a Kickstarter campaign for her latest film project, The Retreat.
Anissa and I got to catch up a little while she’s back in Europe working on a series of short films for the luxury brand, Céline. She tells us what it’s like living in Venice Beach, helicopter parenting at its worst and how to balance motherhood with a creative life. Plus, what she finds most shocking about the American lifestyle. Spoiler: It has to do with the food.
You’re a Parisienne in America. Was there a long adjustment period, if at all? Any culture shocks or surprises?
I’ve been going to the States for long periods since I was 19 years old so when we moved to LA, it wasn’t all new. We had our friends, knew where we wanted to live and especially, what we didn’t want! We live in Venice Beach and I’m always amazed to see how everyone can coexist: The old hippies who created the neighbourhood, the super rich startup people, struggling artists, surfers. It’s a huge melting pot that creates such a powerful life energy. I’ve never seen this anywhere else.
What do you miss the most about Paris? And what do you enjoy about life in the States?
I miss the old beauty of Paris and the food, of course! I miss my parents, my sister and my friends a great deal. But I really enjoy the everyday life in Venice. The blue sky, the sun and this incredible light that we have almost every day of the year. It gives you an energy that you can’t dream of getting in Paris. I also love the idea that everything is possible if you really work hard for it. The American Dream isn’t just an idea; it’s a strength that somehow motivates everyone.
You once told me how when you came back to Paris after living in New York, it took time to readjust. How do you feel now when you come back? Does it feel like home? Or is home LA?
I was born and raised in Paris. It’s my city and always will be. But I have to say that I’m also very happy when I leave it. It’s a conflicted relationship. Paris and I should go to couples therapy.
Do your kids think of themselves as American or European?
The kids love the California lifestyle! Each weekend is like a holiday and it’s hard to compete with that. They spend their days outside playing. They are way closer to nature and that’s what they clearly need at 3 and 6 years old. Even if we love living in the States, we feel very European so our kids are still French and Italian. I want them to stay that way, close to their origins. Even if my daughter, after seeing a spider climbing on my bike, screams with her hands on her cheeks, “Oh my god! Oh my god!”
Does raising them in the US feel different from raising them in France?
American schools are very different from French ones. It took me some time to find the school I felt confident leaving my kids in. Also, food is definitely a problem. The US is a country of snacking. They don’t have three proper meals as we do [in France] and for me, it’s important that the kids eat well at proper hours. It’s a moment of exchange that is very important for me. I also feel like American parents always try to analyze the tiniest reactions of their kids and rarely give them a timeout. It’s hard to relate to. I found myself in some crazy situations with parents who were completely incapable of stopping their reckless kids because they didn’t want to traumatize them!
How do you retain and transmit your French—and Andrea’s Italian—culture to the kids? Are you very conscious of it or is it more casual through food and language?
I guess it’s more casual. Through food, for sure. We speak to them in our maternal languages (Andrea is not as consistent as I am!) I also read them lots of French books and stories and we have the chance to go back to Europe often.
That is a long flight from LA to Europe! How do you occupy the kids?
Luckily, my kids are super easy travelers since they’ve been taking long flights their whole lives. Vittorio (their 3-year-old) went to Panama when he was four weeks old to be on the set of his dad’s movie, Escobar: Paradise Lost. The only thing I do is let go and accept they’ll watch more movies than usual!
You took some time off when you had your kids. How was that period for you? And how did you get back to working?
It was a blessed moment when I had my kids. I never thought I would love being a mom so much. I took time off, but I was also always doing something related to my work. When I was pregnant with my first child, Alma, I had to stay in bed for five months. It was very hard, but at the same time, I was preparing a short film and did all my meetings at home. I hired my crew from my bed. It formed some bonds for sure!
You’re a young mom! I’m so envious that when you’re my age, your oldest will be a teenager. Had you always planned on having kids early?
I never planned anything in my life! I wish I did, but I’m not organized at all. So I didn’t plan on falling in love with this Roman guy at 23 and getting pregnant two years later. But I loved it.
Can you tell me about the short films you’re doing for Céline? What is the idea behind the films? And when can we see them?
I’ve been shooting at the Céline factory in Florence. It was gorgeous to see all these young and older artisans mastering their craft. I had to film the fabrication of their Classic bag, their Luggage bag and a wallet. It’s such hard work to get this perfect result. I tried to film as purely as the lines of their bags and follow the rhythm of the creation. It was a wonderful experience and exercise for me. I think you’ll be able to see the films in the fall.
Let’s talk about your current project and your Kickstarter campaign!
The Retreat is a film that I feel very close to and even if the story isn’t something that happened to me, I profoundly relate to its emotions. It’s a comedy about pure love and betrayal. I admire the films of Billy Wilder, Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar. I decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign because it’s hard to finance a short film in the US. There’s no help from the State so it seemed like a great opportunity for crowd funding. I only have nine days to reach my goal and hope people can support me. It’s a great adventure that can lead to the creation of a beautiful film!
What’s it like to be in a marriage where both you and your husband have the same career? Is there ever competition?
I feel we really help and advise each other well. I don’t feel there’s any competition between us. We are supportive with one another. Also, we’re not at the same point in our careers so we don’t step on each other’s toes. Sometimes we have to be separated because of work, but that’s the name of the game! I’m very proud of my husband and I know he is proud of me.
Your work is creative and doesn’t have set hours like a 9-to-5 job. How do you manage creative life with young kids and limited time? Do you work while they’re in school or sleeping at night?
It’s tricky. I work and write when they are at school but it can happen that I work at night, too, if I have an idea I want to put down. I try to keep the evenings for watching movies, reading or spending some time with my man—otherwise, there’s never a break. But it’s hard to have to stop when you’re in a good flow and you have to pick the kids up at school. It can be frustrating. But as soon as I see their little faces, the frustration goes away!
What are your summer plans? Are you doing a long, European-style holiday or the short-and-sweet, two-week American vacation?
What’s the first place you visit when you get back to Paris? And in LA?
When I arrive in Paris, I love to eat at Le Dauphin and Le Comptoir du Relais. I do my grocery shopping at le Marché d’Aligre and la Grande Epicerie de Paris. I also love getting a great facial at Le Hammam Les Cent Ciels. In LA, the first thing I want to do is see the ocean and have a walk on crazy Venice Beach Boardwalk! Then I like to have a nice breakfast on the terrace of Gjelina and take a ballet class with my great Russian ballet teacher. I also just enjoy my sweet house that I adore.
Images courtesy of Anissa Bonnefont