Some people feel they should have been born in another era, but French director Mabrouk El Mechri thinks he should have been born in a different country. “I was born in the wrong city,” says the 31-year-old a native of Versailles who is obsessed with New York. His affection for the city, developed through films like “Donnie Brasco” and photos of Bob Dylan wandering Greenwich Village, led him to set his third movie, “Midwife Crisis” starring Vanessa Paradis and Michael Madsen, in Manhattan. “The difficulty will be not filming the city with tourists’ eyes,” says the director, who has already started scouting locations for the September shoot..

In the meantime, he’s doing press for his summer flick “JCVD” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, which opened on French screens earlier this month. “He is like my Proust madeleine,” says El Mechri, who has always been a fan of “the muscles from Brussels,” and who grew up fascinated with the idea of the American dream, encapsulated by the Belgian actor.

This story first appeared in the June 24, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

El Mechri refers to Van Damme’s story as more of a rise and fall, but that’s what makes the film interesting. Inspired by the action star’s own life, the film was a hit at the Cannes International Film Festival and will later be released in the U.K. and Japan.

No slouch, El Mechri will go straight from work on “Midwife” to begin his next project, a comedy about a fashion editor who gets fired and creates her own magazine. “It will be very light. That’s the regressive part in me,” he says.

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