A native of the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Moshe Mizrahi—who died this month at the age of eighty-six—came to the land of Israel with his family just after World War II. In the 1950s, he moved to France and began writing film criticism, but did not direct his first movie, The Customer of the Off Season—about a French concentration-camp guard who takes refuge in Israel under an assumed identity—until 1970. Liel Leibovitz reflects on his career:
The film was well received, and was nominated for several prestigious awards, including the Golden Globe. A second film wasn’t as successful, and Mizrahi . . . decided it was time to go back to Israel and tell the stories he had always wanted to tell. For the most part, these stories were about women like his mother, resourceful and courageous and forced to provide for their families by themselves.
In 1972’s I Love You, Rosa, he told a story about a young widow bound by tradition to marry her late husband’s brother; because the boy is still young, however, she ends up teaching him how to become a respectful partner, and they end up forming a partnership that defies the confines of their patriarchal, religious society. The film was nominated for an Academy Award, as was Mizrahi’s follow-up, The House in Chelouche Street, based largely on the life of the director’s mother. In 1977, he finally won the award with Madame Rosa, based on the novel The Life Before Us by Romain Gary.
Israelis, however, were not impressed. Not only was Mizrahi’s Oscar-winning film French and therefore foreign, but the director’s work was out of step with the popular Israeli cinema of the time. . . . He continued to direct, but felt himself more and more at odds with the culture in both Israel and France. . . . [But his] cinematic legacy [is] very much worthy of a second look.