Madame Rosa (1977): Simone Signoret Shines in Mizrahi’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (Jewish, Holocaust, Prostitute)

Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, 1956-present
1977: Year 22
Oscar-winning French actress Simon Signoret (A Room at
the Top, 1959) gives a wonderfully heartfelt, but not
sentimental performance in the title role of Madame Rosa.
Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)
Madame Rosa

Film poster


Signoret plays an aging woman who’s a survivor of the
Holocaust (Auschwitz concentration camp), making a living by
taking care of children of her fellow prostitutes in Paris.
With her health rapidly declining, an Arab boy she had raised, takes care of her needs, and a special bond evolves between them.
Directed by Paris-based Israeli director Moshe Mizrahi, “Madame Rosa” won the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and Signoret received the Cesar Award (French Oscar) for Best Actress. 
Well-shot by ace lenser Nestor Almendros, the film also
features Claude Dauphin and director Costa-Gavras as an actor.
Israeli director Moshé Mizrahi made the film after moving to France. While the film was based on a novel, Mizrahi was also inspired to make the film from having been raised in Egypt, Israel and Palestine. As actress Simone Signoret said: “He’s immersed in the two cultures, Arab and Jews, they’re his two loves.”
Signoret was initially advised by her husband Yves Montand not to take the role, and, indeed, she refused it for a year. Signoret explained what eventually persuaded to play the part: “A role like that comes every 20 years. It is a cake. She is everything— liar, sincere, gourmand, poor, stupid, intelligent, warm, nasty. And she dies on top of that. If I had said ‘no,’ and another woman had played it, I would have been sick”.
She had to gain significant weight for the part, with Mizrahi choosing undersized dresses with floral decorations to accentuate the weight gain.
Signoret was in her 50s at the time, and was made to appear 10 years older, with her wrinkles accentuated and her cheeks widened with cotton. Her legs were also padded.
With two million viewers, La vie devant soi was a great success in France. Its broad appeal was no doubt aided by the popularity of the TV series Madame le judge, which Signoret starred in.
The film opened on March 19, 1978 at the Plaza Theater in New York City, and played there for months. A huge commercial hit, it earned $5.2 million in the U.S. alone


Oscar Alert
Madame Rosa won in a category that included Iphigenia
from Greece, Operation Thunderbolt from Israel, A
Special Day from Italy, and That Obscure Object of
Desire by Luis Bunuel from Spain.
Simone Signoret as Madame Rosa
Samy Ben Youb as Momo

Elio Bencoil as Moïse

Claude Dauphin as Dr. Katz

Stella Annicette as Madame Lola

Gabriel Jabbour as Monsieur Hamil

Michal Bat-Adam as Nadine

Costa-Gavras as Ramon

Geneviève Fontanel as Maryse

Bernard La Jarrige as Louis Charmette

El Kebir as Monsieur Mimoun

Ibrahim Seck as N’da Amédée

Mohamed Zinet as Kadir Youssef


Directed, written by Moshé Mizrahi
Produced by Jean Bolvary
Cinematography Néstor Almendros
Edited by Sophie Coussein
Music by Dabket Loubna

Release date: November 2, 1977

Running time: 105 minutes