Live and Become (Menemsha Films, NR)

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dvd_live-and-become.jpgThe film uses the story of an Ethiopian Christian boy airlifted to Israel in 1985 as part of Operation Moses to examine questions of national and racial identity in modern Israel.







The award-winning film Live and Become (Va, vis et deviens) by Romanian-French director Radu Mihaileanu uses the story of an Ethiopian Christian boy airlifted to Israel in 1985 as part of Operation Moses to examine questions of national and racial identity in modern Israel.

Young Schlomo (the name he adopts in Israel; we never learn his Ethiopian name) passes as the son of a Jewish woman whose own son died immediately before the airlift. Told by both his mothers that he must never reveal his true identity (Israeli officials immediately deport refugees they believe are not Jews), Schlomo has more than the usual amount of culture shock to deal with. The strain of his deception also weighs heavily on him, and he retreats into a shell punctuated by outbursts of violence.

Things start to look up when Schlomo is adopted by a secular French-Israeli couple (Yael Abecassis and Roschdy Zem), and gradually he begins to adjust to life in his new country. He bonds with his adoptive grandfather (Rami Danon) and enlists the Ethiopian rabbi Qes Amhra (Yitzhak Edgar) to write letters in Amharic to his mother in Ethiopia.

It's not all milk and honey in the land of Israel, however. Despite Israel's initial enthusiasm at welcoming the Falashas, many individual Israelis are prejudiced against non-Europeans. Parents at Schlomo's school think he's going to infect their children with strange African diseases and Shlomo is summoned to undergo symbolic re-circumcision (as were all Falashas) to establish his Jewishness. It's not surprising that he prays to wake up white and speaking Yiddish so he'll be a real Jew.

Things get worse when Schlomo becomes a teenager. He falls in love with a pretty classmate (Roni Hadar) and enters a Scripture competition in order to impress her father, who sees him only as a Black African not good enough for his daughter. The contradictions of Schlomo's existence pile up, eventually bringing him into conflict with his adoptive family.

Live and Become tells the story of Schlomo at three stages of life: child, adolescent and young adult. The actors playing Schlomo (Moshe Agazai, Mosche Abebe and Sirak M. Sabahat) are excellent but have too much ground to cover; this story has enough material for a three-part television miniseries. The strongest section is Schlomo's childhood; his struggles to adapt to life in Israel are entirely absorbing, in part because the filmmaker allows them to unfold at a leisurely pace. But the second and third sections are rushed and disorienting, as if the filmmaker needed to tick off a series of events before bringing the film to a rather forced conclusion.

The DVD of Live and Become is available for pre-order from Menemsha Films (; it will be released on April 7, 2009. The visual and audio transfer are excellent, but it's a barebones package; the only extra on the disc is the film's trailer. | Sarah Boslaugh

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