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josephk
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Madame Rosa (1977)
07. Jun 2002 at 20:35
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La Vie devant soi (France, 1977)
A.K.A. Madame Rosa
Starring the famous Simone Signoret
Based on a novel by Romain Gary
and directed by Moshé Mizrahi

After popping this one into the VCR and watching 5 minutes of it, I thought to myself: "This is going to be tedious to watch!" Something about the look of it at first made me think it wouldn't be very interesting. Was I ever wrong!

Without even realizing it, I was completely drawn in within moments. It's a cliché to say "it kept getting better with each scene," but that's exactly what was happening. By the end of the film, I was amazed by the lyricism and incredible depth of characterization.

Madame Rosa is an old jewish ex-prostitute and Auswich survivor living in post-war Paris and making a living by taking care of the children of local prostitutes, who are either unable or unwilling to care for them. When the film opens, she has about 10 kids of various ages living with her, including the eldest, Momo.

Momo (short for Mohamed) is an arab boy who was brought up as a muslim by Madame Rosa, in spite of her jewish faith. Unlike many of the other kids she is taking care of, Momo doesn't know anything about who his parents are and is growing increasingly curious. He knows Madame Rosa is hiding something from him. For instance, why does she tell him he is eleven years old, when it's quite obvious he has the body and mind of a fourteen-year-old?

Madame Rosa is getting old and is no longer able to care for the children. As she finds more suitable homes for the kids, she and Momo are left to fend for themselves without any source of income, but with the help of kind neighbours, pimps and whores.

A subplot involves Momo meeting a woman who works as a film editor and takes an interest in him. The two are drawn to each other and the woman is quite willing to bring Momo into her home, but he is held back by (among other things) his loyalty to Madame Rosa.

The film is above all a love story between Madame Rosa and Momo. Their relationship is very well developed, and you feel that there is a strong bond between them that involves love and loyalty. The film plays on the fact that he is muslim and she is jewish, and as such it delivers a very subtle message about tolerance and prejudice without sounding a bit preachy.

Themes explored include religion, death, friendship, insanity, aging, euthanasia, sexuality, love and, perhaps most importantly, how one's identity is related to things like religion, nationality and parents (or lack of parents). Some of these are pretty heavy, and the second half of the film wanders into some pretty dark territory (starting with the revelation of the truth about Momo's parents).

It will make you think, and if you're as sensitive as I am, it might also make you cry. The end is ambiguously tragic (or tragically ambiguous?), but the message is spoken loud and clear by Momo in the final words of the film, which I can post here without ruining anything for you: "Il faut aimer" ("We must love").

Momo is a very handsome boy, played by Samy Ben Youb. As far as I know, this is his only role. I searched all over the Internet to find a picture of him, but in vain. I'm really sorry I can't make any video caps for you guys.


(Edited by josephk at 2:40 am on June 8, 2002)
« Last Edit: 29. Jun 2008 at 04:52 by Zabladowski »  
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josephk
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La vie devant soi
Reply #1 - 14. Jun 2002 at 21:10
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"La vie devant soi" means "Life ahead of oneself." Like in English, it's something older people tend to tell younger people, as in "Tu as toute la vie devant toi" - "You have your whole life ahead of you."

I guess publicists wanted to capitalize on Simone Signoret's international stardom, so they changed the English title to "Madame Rosa" to emphasize her role in the film, even though arguably the boy is the central character and is the one to whom the original French title refers as having life ahead of him.
  
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