Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Madame Rosa

(La vie devant soi, France, 1977)

Translates as The Life Ahead. Simone Signoret is the title character. She is an elderly French Jew, a former prostitute, an Auschwitz survivor. She lives in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris, which at that time (maybe still, for all I know) was a real ethnic mix. She babysits for the whores on the street, and has two young men who live with her full time: Mohammed, known as Momo, and Moïse, a Jewish boy. Momo thinks he is eleven, but he’s actually fourteen because Rosa lied about his age. At the beginning of the story she is almost unable to climb to her sixth-floor apartment anymore, and by the end she has to be carried. She is also losing her mind. She lapses into a catatonic state from time to time.

Momo is a lot of trouble at first, angry and lashing out, but as she worsens he lets himself see just how much he loves her. Her main wish is not to be taken to the hospital where they can keep her alive for another year or two, hooked up to machines. Most of all, she is determined to die at home, and in her own time. I totally support this. I strongly believe that suicide is a basic human right. If I come to find life intolerable, I think I should legally be able to seek help without running afoul of the law. Across the river in Oregon, I would be able to do that, though I’d have to jump through a lot of hoops to do it. Euthanasia is a crime almost everywhere else. I think that blowing my brains out, leaving a bloody corpse for my friends and family to deal with is horribly wrong. Driving off a cliff is the worst sort of littering. Turning on the gas is hazardous to others, and besides, we don’t have gas. No, I want drugs. Good drugs! I want to go out with a smile on my face.

That’s all you need to know about the plot. This is a superior movie, with a wonderful central performance by Ms. Signoret. She was quite glamorous in her youth, and she looks dreadful here, but looks can be deceiving. She gained a lot of weight for the role, wore heavy make-up to look older, had her cheeks filled out with cotton, and her legs were padded.

It can be seen as a plea for peace between Arab and Jew. It was written and directed by Moshé Mizrah, an Israeli. One lovely thing about it is how the residents of her building, mostly Arab Muslims and immigrants from Africa, love her and are all willing to pitch in and help her up and down the stairs, or do whatever else needs doing. Rosa is raising Momo as a Muslim, having him go to the local mosque of his education, respecting his heritage.

If only there wasn’t so much hate.