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Jewish Journal

Complex Heroines Mirror Director

by Naomi Pfefferman

April 22, 2004 | 8:00 pm

Shira lew-Munk, left, and Liat Goren in "Aya, An Imagined Autobiography," directed by Michal Bat-Adam.

Shira lew-Munk, left, and Liat Goren in "Aya, An Imagined Autobiography," directed by Michal Bat-Adam.

Since actress Michal Bat-Adam became the first woman to direct an Israeli feature film in the late 1970s, she's created some of the most striking heroines in Israeli cinema.

"Moments" (1979) tells of an intensely charged friendship between two young women, "The Thin Line" (1980) recalls Bat-Adam's childhood with her mentally ill mother, "Boy Takes Girl" (1991) depicts a youth's struggle to adapt to life on a farming cooperative and "Life Is Life" (2003) involves a troubled adulteress.

If her heroines are often or independent, so is the director. As a child, she lived on a kibbutz, without parents, because her bipolar mother was unable to care for her at home. Practicing the violin for hours each day "was a bit of a compensation for not having parents," she said.

Upon leaving the kibbutz, Bat-Adam earned her living in the orchestral pit of musical theater productions and "felt quite jealous of actresses on the stage." To "get rid of the acting bug," she applied to the prestigious Beit Zvi drama school; after graduation came choice roles with Israel's esteemed Habima theater. It was on the stage, around 1972, that she caught the eye of filmmaker Moshe Mizrahi, her future husband.

In his Oscar-nominated "I Love You, Rosa," Bat-Adam portrayed a 20-year-old widow who doesn't go with the flow when she is betrothed to her 11-year-old brother-in-law. She went on to depict other free thinkers in films such as Mizrahi's "The House on Chelouche Street."

While living in Paris in the late 1970s, she also thought for herself when roles eluded her due to the language barrier. Bat-Adam wrote a screenplay with a part for herself but decided to direct it instead.

The result was her controversial "Moments," which angered some feminists for its depiction of jealousy between two modern women. In response, Bat-Adam said she "wrote the movie because I saw that some supposedly liberated women lived inside their heads, not their hearts, and I didn't like this way of ignoring how we really feel."

Since then, she's directed eight more features, including "A Thousand and One Wives," which dissects complicated women.

"I know that sometimes people say of my work, 'Oh, it's a film of Michal Bat-Adam,'" she said (translation: it's a chick flick). "But I don't think you can create a female character just to be a plaything for the men. You have to tell her story as well, to make her a full human being."

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