Review: Overlooked 'Madame Rosa' Rediscovered on 4K Blu-ray

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 18, 2021

A few months ago, Netflix debuted a wonderful new Italian-language film by Edoardo Ponti, titled "The Life Ahead (La vita davanti a se')," starring his mamma, the legend Sophia Loren. The movie was based on a highly successful 1975 French novel by Romain Gary, the husband of Jean Seberg. Loren delivers a lovely performance in "The Life Ahead," one that deserved more awards attention. But there was an earlier adaptation of the same book that has unfairly fallen by the wayside - a more faithful and compelling version that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film of 1977: "Madame Rosa."

Thanks to Kino Lorber's truly impressive 4K restoration, film lovers can now bask in the glory of this truly transcendent work, which boasts a magnificent performance by German-born French icon Simone Signoret (Oscar winner for Best Actress for "Room at the Top" in 1958).

It's interesting to note that in 1977 "Madame Rosa" had fierce competition at the Oscars via a Sophia Loren film, Ettore Scola's "A Special Day," which was the expected winner. "Rosa's" selection was a surprise, although considering the themes the film deals with — aging, memory loss, class struggle, the mid-east conflict and the Holocaust — it makes perfect sense in retrospect. The film was seen as overly sentimental by the critics at the time (a ridiculous dismissal), although Signoret's performance was rightfully lauded.

In any other year both Loren's understated turn in "A Special Day" (which can be enjoyed on a terrific Criterion Blu-ray) and Signoret's beguiling work in "Madame Rosa" might have received Oscar attention. But 1977 was an oddly crowded year for superlative lead female performances. The nominees that year were Jane Fonda in "Julia," Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, both for "The Turning Point," Marsha Mason in "The Goodbye Girl," and the winner, Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall." All American. All amazing.

Skillfully written and deftly directed by Moshé Mizrahi, who has very few screen credits, the film centers on the titular character, a Jewish Holocaust survivor and former prostitute who now, at 65, runs a boarding house of sorts for the children of prostitutes. One of those kids, Momo (Samy Ben Youb), is an Algerian-born Muslim who ends up caring for Rosa when her mind and body begin to betray her.

The film was made amid the Arab-Israeli-conflict in the '70s — how ironic that we seem to be reliving a version of that right now — and the film's message of tolerance, love, and acceptance was quite before its time and delivered in a subtle and graceful manner.

Signoret, on the advice of her husband Yves Montand, turned the role down several times, but eventually capitulated. She was only in her 50s, so, besides gaining weight, she was padded and wrinkles were added to her face.

Her work is beautiful and layered, truly captivating.

Samy Ben Youb delivers a powerhouse debut performance and, strangely, never went on to make another film.

The only Special Feature on the Blu-ray is a keen, enjoyable, and informative audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger, in which she discusses most aspects of the film and the filmmakers.

"Madame Rosa" is one of those lost treasures that begs to be rediscovered and appreciated. And its themes could not be timelier.

"Madame Rosa" is available on Blu-ray on May 18, 2021.

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.