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aka - Va, Vis et Deviens
Israel/France 2006
Directed by
Radu Mihaileanu
149 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Andrea Buck
4 stars

Live And Become

Synopsis: Set during the famine in Ethiopia at the end of 1984 this story follows the life of a nine-year-old boy who is saved from starvation during Operation Moses, when Israel and the United States transported several thousand Ethiopian Jews, so-called Falashas, to the Holy Land. Only this boy is not Jewish and must leave his mother, his country and his identity behind to assume the place of a recently deceased Ethiopian child, pretending to be what he is not and struggling to live with who he is.

Live And Become is an Israeli-French co-production, written and directed by Romanian-born French resident Radu Mihaileanu. It is a quietly narrated epic work, deep with emotion and insight and incorporating vast themes of personal identity, racism, religious intolerance, theology, religion as culture and identity and the complex realities of the immigrant experience of integrating into a new society whilst never letting go of the longing for the old.

Told through the intimate experiences of one boy who adopts the name Schlomo (Moshe Agazai as the 9 year old, later Mosche Abebe and Sirak M. Sabahat as he grows to adolescence and then manhood), the film gives a personal face to huge global, inter-cultural and political issues, making us feel the human face of tragedy. We are shown Africa not just as a continent to pity but a continent worthy of love and longing. We see the massive sense of loss this boy feels, a feeling that remains constant never, for a land he has been ‘saved’ from, to be - ironically - flung into the dangerous conflicts that Israel is exposed to, the intolerance of its society and its social, political and religious complexities.

After the woman who has brought him to Israel dies, Schlomo is left an orphan, lost and alone, terrified and mourning for his real mother and the familiarity of home. It is only after he is adopted by a liberal, non-religious Israeli/French family who show him love, patience and genuine empathy that Schlomo begins to flourish and feel a sense of belonging. He learns to pass as Jewish perhaps better than most Jews, to fit in, to adopt the language and culture of this new land. But underneath he remains Ethiopian and will eventually, after successfully becoming a doctor, return home to where he first left his mother.

For all his years in Israel, and then later France, Schlomo remains riddled with guilt for his lie and terrified of exposure. He is left struggling with who he is and where he belongs. He is forced to keep his true identity, the existence of his real mother and the fact that he is not Jewish a secret for fear of being sent back to Ethiopia. Both he and his adoptive family are faced with the ugliness of many Israelis not accepting that black Africans can be real Jews, forcing the family to endure racism and ridicule. But they never falter in their love and support for this boy who is now one of them.

Live And Become is a film made with compassion, empathy and sensitivity. The unconditional love shown by Schlomo’s adoptive parents, Yoram (Roschdy Zem) and particularly Yael (Yael Abecassis), in the face of the complexities and difficulties he brings to their lives is massively inspiring. If we could all take a little piece of this love away with us, and see situations across our world as complex political, social and environmental issues holding millions of individual stories, each as valuable as our own, surely our world would be a much better place.

This film hit so many chords for me personally but I believe the issues that it touches on are both universal and crucial to our times. It is no wonder that Live And Become was voted the most popular film during the 55th Berlin International Film Festival. I recommend this film to anyone who has even the slightest capacity to care and see the value in understanding the world we live in a little bit more.




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