Moshe Mizrahi, Israeli Director of 3 Foreign-Language Oscar Nominees, Dies at 86

Courtesy of Everett Collection
Moshe Mizrahi

His 'Madame Rosa,' starring Simone Signoret and representing France, took home the trophy in 1977.

Israeli filmmaker Moshe Mizrahi, who co-wrote and directed three Oscar-nominated foreign-language dramas in the 1970s, including the winning Madame Rosa, starring Simone Signoret, has died. He was 86.

Mizrahi died Friday at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel, a hospital spokesperson said. He had been admitted with severe pneumonia.

Mizrahi also was behind the Oscar nominees I Love You Rosa (1972) and The House on Chelouche Street (1973). Madame Rosa (1977), representing France, triumphed over his homeland's nominee, Operation Thunderbolt, from writer-director Menahem Golan.

Based on French author Romain Gary's The Life Before UsMadame Rosa stars Signoret as an elderly Jewish woman who survived Auschwitz and worked as a prostitute before running a Paris boarding home for the children of hookers and befriending a young Muslim Algerian boy.

The film's awards campaign seemed to gain momentum from the Egypt-Israel peace talks being presided over by U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Born in 1931 in Alexandria, Egypt, Mizrahi immigrated to Mandatory Palestine at age 14 — two years before the state of Israel was proclaimed — with his widowed mother and brother. Educated in a kibbutz, he immersed himself in a new culture and way of living.

Mizrahi moved to France in the 1950s and began a career as a film critic and translator while also working as a youth leader within the local branch of the Jewish Agency.

An autodidact filmmaker, he worked for the French TV production company TeleFrance in several roles, gaining cinematic expertise along the way, and he made his full-length feature directorial debut in 1970 with Les stances a Sophie (Sophie's Ways). 

That year, he also premiered the Israel-French co-production The Customer of the Off Season at the Berlin Film Festival; it went on to receive a Golden Globe nomination for foreign-language film.

I Love You Rosa starred ingenue Michal Bat-Adam, who went on to become not only his muse and star of future films but his wife. (The couple's only child, Daniel, was born in 1980.) She survives him.

Mizrahi produced Bat-Adam's directorial debut, Moments de la vie d'une femme (1979), which saw her rise to prominence as an acclaimed filmmaker in Israel as well.

His 1974 comedy-drama Daughters, Daughters played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

In the 1980s, Mizrahi released seven films, including 1983's Young Once (Une jeunesse), adapted from French novelist Patrick Modiano's book, and Every Time We Say Goodbye, his American film debut. The latter stars Tom Hanks as an American pilot recovering in Jerusalem from a leg injury incurred during World War II.

The TriStar release, filmed in Israel in 1986, was considered the highest-budget movie in Holy Land history at $3.7 million, but it was a dud at the box office.

Mizrahi's final feature was A Weekend in the Galilee (2007), which he directed and co-wrote with his wife. He also lectured at Tel Aviv University until his retirement.