Madame Rosa

Madame Rosa

Film poster
Directed by Moshé Mizrahi
Written by Moshé Mizrahi
Starring Simone Signoret
Michal Bat-Adam
Samy Ben-Youb
Gabriel Jabbour
Geneviève Fontanel
Release dates
  • 2 November 1977 (1977-11-02)
Running time
105 minutes
Country France
Language French

Madame Rosa (French: La vie devant soi) is a 1977 French film directed by Moshé Mizrahi, adapted from the 1975 novel The Life Before Us by Romain Gary. It stars Simone Signoret and Samy Ben-Youb, and tells the story of an elderly Jewish woman and former prostitute in Paris who cares for a number of children, including an adolescent Algerian boy. The film required a transformation in Signoret's appearance as Madame Rosa.

The film was viewed in context of Arab–Israeli conflicts, and received positive reviews. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, while Signoret won the César Award for Best Actress for her performance.


In Belleville, Paris, Madame Rosa, an elderly French Jew who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp and worked as a prostitute, now runs a boarding home for the children of prostitutes. One of them is Momo, an Algerian boy who is believed to be 10. Although Madame Rosa is Jewish, she raises Momo as a Muslim in respect of his heritage. She is in fact concealing the fact that Momo is 14, having a strong skepticism of official papers and what they can or cannot prove.

Madame Rosa is in exceedingly poor health, at times falling back into the belief that she will be arrested by the French Police and sent back to Auschwitz. She refuses to be hospitalized. Momo believes she should be euthanized. When told by a French doctor that euthanasia contradicts French values, Momo replies he is not French and that Algerians believe in self-determination. Momo is with Madame Rosa when she retreats to her hidden space under the staircase to die, and is discovered with her body three weeks later.



Israeli director Moshé Mizrahi made the film after moving to France.

Israeli director Moshé Mizrahi made the film after moving to France.[1] Actress Simone Signoret, who starred as Madame Rosa, was initially advised by her husband Yves Montand not to take the role, and refused it for a year. Signoret explained why she was eventually persuaded to play the part, saying, "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."[2]

She had to gain significant weight for the part, with Mizrahi choosing undersized dresses with floral decorations to accentuate the weight gain.[3] 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.[2]


Box office

With two million admissions, La vie devant soi was a great success in France.[4] Its success may have been aided by the popularity of the TV series Madame le judge, which Signoret starred in.[5]

The film opened on 19 March 1978 at the Plaza Theater in New York City.[6] It made $5.2 million in the United States.[7]

Cricial reception

Madame Rosa met "acclaim" in North America.[8] Vincent Canby, writing for The New York Times, judged that Moshé Mizrahi's direction of the film was beautiful, and Madame Rosa was "a tremendous character," Signoret's "best role in years."[6] Molly Haskell, writing for New York, interpreted the story as "a wishful fable of Israeli-Arab reconciliation," and said it "managed to get to" her.[9] The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle praised it as "an unforgettable film," asking "How can a film about pimps, whores, transvestites and average people who populate Belleville in France be a film about love and human kindness? ...It's a story of warmth and understanding between Arab and Jew."[10] Anna Simons of The Harvard Crimson stated the film "is carried to near perfection by Simone Signoret's brilliant rendition of Madame Rosa and Samy Ben Youn's impressive performance as Momo."[11]

James Monaco's 1992 The Movie Guide, reviewing the VHS, gave Madame Rosa three and a half stars, stating it "handles its underlying conflicts- between Arabs and Jews, between Nazis and Jews- well, and explores its mixed racial and cultural milieu with grace, sensitivity and subtlety."[12] in 2013, Xavier Leherpeur of L'Express described Signoret as unforgettable in the film.[13] In his 2015 Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin gave it two and a half stars, describing it as "aimless."[14] On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 83%, based on six reviews.[15]


Madame Rosa's release, at a time when U.S. President Jimmy Carter was negotiating a peace between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, boosted its campaign at the Academy Awards,[4] where it ultimately won for Best Foreign Language Film. Critic Molly Haskell believed the award, "in the principle of compensation," was balanced by Vanessa Redgrave winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, allowing Redgrave to make a controversial statement in favour of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.[9] In France, Signoret won the César Award for Best Actress, which she had not received before.[16]

Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film Moshé Mizrahi Won [17]
César Awards Best Actress Simone Signoret Won [18]
Best Production Design Bernard Evein Nominated
Best Sound Jean-Pierre Ruh Nominated
Golden Globes Best Foreign Language Film Madame Rosa Nominated [19]
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Foreign Language Film Moshé Mizrahi Won [20]

See also


  1. Alvin H. Rosenfeld, ed., Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives, Indiana University Press, 2013, p. 369.
  2. 1 2 Andriotakis, Pamela (12 June 1978). "At 57, Simone Signoret Decides 'it Is Useless to Hang Onto the Branches of Youth'". People. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  3. Susan Hayward, Simone Signoret: The Star as Cultural Sign, Bloomsbury, p. 204.
  4. 1 2 Hayward, Simone Signoret: The Star as Cultural Sign, p. 206.
  5. Susan Hayward, French National Cinema, 2nd ed., Psychology Press, 2005, p. 335.
  6. 1 2 Canby, Vincent (19 March 1978). "Screen: Moishe Mizrahi's 'Rosa'". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  7. Tino Balio, The Foreign Film Renaissance on American Screens, 1946–1973, University of Wisconsin Press, 2010, p. 311.
  8. John R. May and Michael Bird, eds., Religion in Film, University of Tennessee Press, 1982, p. 38.
  9. 1 2 Molly Haskell, "Momo Meets Momus," New York, 24 April 1978, p. 70.
  10. "Madame Rosa: A Film To See," The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, 27 July 1978, p. 7.
  11. Simons, Anna (24 May 1978). "Substance Over Form". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  12. James Monaco, The Movie Guide, Perigee Books, 1992, p. 510.
  13. Leherpeur, Xavier (19 July 2013). "L'immigration dans le cinéma français, un bilan mitigé". L'Express. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  14. Leonard Maltin, Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide, Penguin Group, September 2014.
  15. "Madame Rosa (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  16. Remi Fournier Lanzoni, French Cinema: From Its Beginnings to the Present, 2nd ed., Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015, p. 522.
  17. "The 50th Academy Awards (1978) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  18. "LA VIE DEVANT SOI". AlloCiné. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  19. "Madame Rosa". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  20. "4th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
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