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GreenCine Movie Talk
Foreign
From Albania to Zaire, there's a whole world out there.
183

`Live & Become' - `Deny thy mother, and refuse thy name...'
Topic by: JGereben
Posted: July 31, 2006 - 1:32 PM PDT
Last Reply: July 31, 2006 - 1:32 PM PDT

author topic: `Live & Become' - `Deny thy mother, and refuse thy name...'
JGereben
post #1  on July 31, 2006 - 1:32 PM PDT  
[August screenings still available in the Bay Area, check http://www.sfjff.org/, but commercial release is scheduled for November. JG]

The July 27th closing night of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival turned out to be more than just the screening of a movie. There was drama in the Castro Theater, many in a mostly Jewish audience sobbing audibly in response to the story of an Ethopian child escaping to Israel by pretending to be Jewish.

Forty-seven-year-old Radu Mihaileanu - Romanian-born, raised in Israel, now a French filmmaker, director of the much-honored "Train of Life" - created a complex, honest, deeply affecting work in "Live and Become" ("Va, vis et deviens"). In the post-Holocaust world of many Jews trying to pass for gentile, Mihaileanu's true and truthful story shows the opposite: a mother's denial of a child as her own, forcing him to adopt a new identity and religion in order to survive - as a Jew, in Israel, escaping the deadly Ethopian famine and war.

Yet another meaningful reference is Imre Gyöngyössy's 1983 "The Revolt of Job" ("Jób lázadása"), about a Hungarian Jewish peasant couple adopting a Christian child, raising him as a Christian, and refuse to recognize him as their own when they are being taken away, again to assure the child's survival. (The child lived, and grew up to be the writer and director of the film about his own story.)

Mihaileanu's film is based on true events. In 1985, the Mossad supervised an amazing drive, "Operation Moses," the airlift of thousands of Falasha, Ethiopian Jews, believed to be descendants of Menilek I, the son of the Queen of Sheba (Makeda) and King Solomon. Thousands died on the march to Sudan where the Israeli airlift operated, but even more escaped, arrived in Israel, were accepted by the country - if not without religious and political controversy.

History and politics are just the background to "Live and Become," the title stemming from the heartbreaking command of the boy's mother: go, don't tell anyone who you really are, become a Jew, do not come back.

Three actors play Schlomo (the name given to the boy at the Ellis-Island-like refugee center) at various times of his life. The film's greatest impact is from the child Schlomo (Moshe Agazai), who must learn new customs, a new religion, Hebrew, Yiddish, and French (of his adoptive parents) at the same, forgetting his Amharic. His initial transition from the refugee camp to modern Israel is astonishing, at one unforgetteable moment, while taking his first shower, he is trying to stop the water from going down the drain, panicking at the sinful waste.

Mihaileanu is a skilled, powerful moviemaker: he is sticking to the central message, staying with his characters, keeps telling what is the truth for them, but the direction, acting, cinematography are glossy-professional. What makes the film extraordinary - what creates all the crying in the audience - is its honest and effective portrayal of the young refugee's isolation and loneliness, made worse by his belief that his escape is at the cost of his mother's life, in exchange for a lie he feels he must live, even as he becomes an authentic member of Israeli society.

The cast is uniformly outstanding, but Schlomo's adoptive parents are especially memorable. Morroccan-Israeli actress Yael Abecassis' warmth and strength, Moroccan-French actor Roschdy Zem's rough integrity create a true and enviable family environment - but there is nothing easy or false about the young refugee's difficult journey and internal tribulations.

=============
Janos Gereben
www.einsiders.com

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