Ronit Elkabetz, Israeli Actress and Filmmaker, Dies at 51

Courtesy of Music Box Films
Ronit Elkabetz in 'Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem'

She most recently starred in 'Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem,' which was nominated for a Golden Globe and submitted for the foreign-language Oscar race.

Israeli filmmaker and actress Ronit Elkabetz has died following a battle with cancer, her family said Tuesday. She was 51.

Elkabetz most recently starred in the title role of 2014 marital courtroom drama Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem, which was nominated for a Golden Globe in the best foreign-language film category. The film was also Israel's submission for the foreign-language Oscar race.

She co-directed the film with her brother, Shlomi Elkabetz, in what was the culmination of a decade-long trilogy, which included 2004's To Take a Wife and 2008’s 7 Days.

The raven-haired Elkabetz, who was noted for her goth and daring fashion sense, surprised many by showing up with a buzz cut at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards, thus confirming her illness, although she chose to fight her battle away from the public eye.

Born to religious Jewish-Moroccan immigrants in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, Elkabetz started her cinematic career in the early 1990s, most notably in the 1994 release Sh'Chur, for which she won her first Israeli Film Academy Award for best supporting actress. Soon after, she started maintaining a professional life in France as well, first studying at Ariane Mnouchkine's Theatre du Soleil, then appearing in her one-woman show portraying choreographer Martha Graham.

Elkabetz went on to star in such French features films as Origine controlee, Les Mains libres, Andre Techine’s The Girl on the Train opposite Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant’s Cendres et sang.

In 2001, she starred as the female lead in Israeli director Dover Kosashvili’s critically acclaimed Late Marriage, considered one of the country’s biggest artistic breakthrough moves towards its cinematic renaissance in the 21th century. That furthered Elkabetz's standing as an auteur and a prolific actress. She was awarded her second Israeli Film Academy Award for the role.

In 2004, Elkabetz starred in Or (My Treasure) by director Keren Yedaya, which won the Camera d'Or and the Grand Prize Prix Regards Jeune Award for best feature film at the Cannes Film Festival that year. In 2007, she won her third Israeli Film Academy Award for the critically acclaimed The Band's Visit.

Last May, Elkabetz served as president of the jury for the Critics' Week sidebar of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. And in February, she starred in the six-part TV miniseries Trepalium on France's Arte network.

Known for her strong voice and charisma, Elkabetz also was a founding member and president of social feminist empowerment movement Sister (Achoti) since 2000, supporting cooperatives of women with innovative strategies of income generation.

She is survived by her husband of six years, architect Avner Yashar, and their four-year old twin daughter and son. Her funeral will take place Wednesday in Tel Aviv.

Israeli Minister of Culture & Sports Miri Regev said that a formal request to honor Elkabetz during the upcoming Cannes fest will be examined in the coming days, adding that for the late actress "creation was a calling, and she was the model and social compass of sensitive painful matters of the Israeli and Jewish societies." Regev added that Elkabetz's death was "a major loss for the world of cinema and culture, while her character and essence will forever accompany Israel's culture."