Director, scriptwriter, and actress Michal Bat-Adam has been hailed for her nuanced portrayals of mental illness and women’s inner lives. Bat-Adam was sent away to school for much of her childhood as her mother struggled with mental illness. After studying at the Beit Zvi acting school, she played leading roles at the Habimah National Theater and Cameri Theater. Her screen debut, I Love You Rosa, was nominated for an Oscar and entered into the 1972 Cannes Film Festival. She collaborated with the film’s director, Moshe Mizrahi, whom she married, on numerous other films, including his Oscar-winning Madame Rosa in 1977. In 1979 she wrote and directed her first film, Moments. She wrote, directed, and starred in numerous other movies, including 1992’s The Deserter’s Wife and 1994’s Aya: An Imagined Autobiography.
Family and Education
Director, scriptwriter, and actress of stage and screen Michal Bat Adam was born in Afulah on March 22, 1945, to Yemima and Adam Rubin, who had immigrated to Palestine from Warsaw in 1939. As a young child living in Haifa, Bat Adam remembers caring for her mother, who suffered from mental illness. From her father, a photographer, Bat Adam says she inherited her sensitivity to framing and lighting. At the age of six and a half, she joined her older sister Netta at a boarding school on A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families.KibbutzMerhavya in the Harod Valley. During this period, the sisters changed their surname from Rubin to Bat Adam (“daughter of Adam”). At the age of seventeen, Bat Adam dropped out of high school to care for her mother.
Early Acting Career
As a young woman, Bat Adam studied the viola at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music and performed in an orchestra that accompanied musical theater productions. She impulsively auditioned for the Beit Zvi acting school, and, having been accepted, she left music to pursue stage acting. Her early stage experiences included leading roles in repertory theaters, such as the Habimah National Theater, the Cameri Theater, and the Haifa Theater. Her first major film role was the 1972 film I Love You, Rosa, directed by Moshe Mizrahi (who would be her life partner until his death in 2018), which was nominated for an American Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. In the film, Bat Adam plays a woman who rebels against the community codes of late nineteenth-century Jerusalem. This role, of an independent, passionate woman who is condemned for flouting society’s norms, would characterize many of Bat Adam’s significant film appearances. Following the success of I Love You, Rosa, Bat Adam continued to collaborate with Mizrahi, appearing in his The House on Chelouche Street (1973), Daughters, Daughters (1973), and Women (1996), as well as his American Academy Award-winning French film, Madame Rosa (La vie devant soi, 1977).
Bat Adam began her directing and screenwriting career with the acclaimed French-Israeli co-production Moments, which tells the story of a chance encounter between two women. Starring herself, Brigitte Catillon, and Assi Dayan, the film competed in the Un Certain Regard section—the section to recognize young talent and to encourage innovative and daring works—at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival.
While the film was an international success, its reception at home was ambivalent and it was censored in Israel for its “promiscuity.” Nevertheless, the film won the Israeli Film Academy’s Best Film and Best Actress awards and landed Bat Adam her first award for Best Director.
Her mother’s illness has had a tremendous effect on Bat Adam as a filmmaker. Her second film, A Thin Line (1981), follows the hardship of a family whose mother (played by Gila Almagor) suffers from mental illness, a theme Bat Adam returned to a decade later in Aya: An Imagined Autobiography (1994). Meanwhile, Bat Adam explored her experience as an outsider in the Kibbutz in the autobiographical Boy Meets Girl (1983). Aya: An Imagined Autobiography is a profound look at the conflicts of mature women as they grapple with memories of their past. Moving between past and present, the film presents fragments of a life and reflects the filmmaker’s emotional memory—the accumulation of little fantasies and recollection. These are the elements that make up the “real” or “imagined” autobiography.
The interweaving of past and present, fiction and reality, memory and its creative representation have become hallmarks of Bat Adam’s work. With intensity and sensitivity, Bat Adam’s films usually depict complex relationships between women and pacifist politics, rare themes in Israeli cinema of that time. Her interrogation of questions of motherhood, female friendship, and queer passion against the backdrop of the Zionist project should be understood as distinctly political. Bat Adam’s continued commitment to critiquing Israel’s militaristic society is evident in her adaptation of A.B. Yehoshua’s novel The Lover (1985), in The Deserter’s Wife (1992), and in The Road to Where (2016). Other noteworthy films in Bat Adam’s 30-year-long career include Love at Second Sight (1998), Life Is Life (2003), Rita Tentative Title (2007), and Maya (2010). Bat Adam also taught filmmaking in Tel Aviv University and gave poetry recitals at the Habimah Theater.
Bat Adam is the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards from the International Women Film Festival (2013) and the Israeli Film Academy (2019), and she was honored with the Israel Prize for filmmaking in 2021. According to the Israel Prize committee, “Bat Adam has been a groundbreaking filmmaker in Israeli cinema for five decades. Even in a low-budget reality, and at a time when there were no government funds to support films as is customary today, Bat Adam created 12 feature-length films that constitute an original and unique cinematic space.” Bat Adam also received the Israeli Academy of Film and Television award for Best Actress for I Love You Rosa (1972) and Atalia (1984), as well as the Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actress awards for Moments (1979) and A Thin Line (1981).
Braun, Netalie. “Michal Bat Adam.” The Israeli Film Book, edited by Shmulik Duvdevani and Raya Morag. https://www.cinemaofisrael.co.il/%d7%9e%d7%99%d7%9b%d7%9c-%d7%91%d7%aa-%d7%90%d7%93%d7%9d-2/# [Hebrew]
Burstein, Janet. “Israeli Mothers in Film: ‘Re-Visioning’ Culture, Engendering Autonomy.” Shofar 34, no. 1 (2015): 57–80.
Munk, Yael. Exiled in Their Borders: Israeli Cinema at the Turn of the Century. Tel Aviv: Open University Press, 2012. [Hebrew]