An Arab and a Jew love each other. The reason their people fight, she says, is "because we are alike." She is a former prostitute; he is an orphan. Their problems are not political; they are fear, hunger and disease. The moral of the story is that everyone needs someone to love.

The film is "Madame Rosa," and example of how the simplest things can be the most beautiful. It won the Academy Award for the "best foreign film," and Simone Signoret won the top French award, the Cesar, for the title role. The book by Emile Ajar on which it is based won the Prix Goncourt.

To say that "Madame Rosa" has simplicity is far from saying that it is simple-minded. It takes complicated characters to bring off the most basic human impulses. Just for starters, the Jewish heroine, who retired from prostitution "for aesthetic reasons" after leaving Auschwitz, is 67 years old, ill and occasionally senile; and the Arab is the 14-year-old son of another prostitute and the man who murdered her.

There probably isn't anything either of them doesn't know about sex or swindling but they are in the throes of an incredibly powerful platonic and unselfish love. They are both strong characters who keep to their own ethical standards, but it is a custommade morality, according to which they are justified in ignoring the deathbed claims of the boy's father because these violate their brand of ecumenicalism.

Signoret, whose smoky, slit-eyed sexiness is associated with a different type of love story, is here a puffy, greedy, fearful, painted old woman convincingly capable of inspiring a passion based on the quality of her soul. It is an incredible feat. Samy Ben Youb also succeeds in the difficult job of making it convincing that this love is more important to him than a readily available flashy life.

It is unfortunate that a cheap sentimental ending - a deus ex machina in the form of a wholesome, ready-made family - has been tacked onto all this strong sentiment. But by then you may be weeping too hard to notice.