Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

We watch a lot of really suspect movies here at the FCU and quite honestly we wouldn’t have it any other way because we enjoy watching movies of questionable social value because somebody has to give these movies representation and thus we have arbitrarily decided that this representation should come from us. With that being said is it not that often that we are privileged, blessed even to watch an important film, a film that has strived to teach us something in addition to entertaining us and this is the opportunity that we were given with Radu Mihailenue’s emotionally powerful film ‘Live and Become’.

The film starts with a brief history of the attempts of the Israeli government to secretly rescue a group of Ethiopian Jews from poverty and starvation from their homeland by having these refugees trek thousands of kilometers on foot across treacherous, bandit filled deserts to a place where they can be safely airlifted out. Tragically a large number of these refugees would die simply attempting to make the journey to the Sudanese camps. Our story concerns a non-Jewish boy in the camp (Moshe Agazai) whose mother has forced her son to pretend to be Jewish, hop on the plane with the hope that her son will find a better life and as she tells him, to ‘Live and Become’. The nine-year-old knows little about what this could possibly mean and knows only that the person he loves most in the world is sending him away.

The child latches on to a young Jewish Ethiopian woman named Hana (Mimi Abonesh Kebede) who has recently lost her own son and has taken the boy under her wing to give him a crash course in Judaism, her family tree, and changes his name to the more Hebrew based Solomon for as we will see the Israeli authorities will not hesitate to export any non-Jewish Ethiopians back to the Sudanese camps. One thing we know from watching movies that if you cough more than once chances are you are going to die and Hana has been coughing since we met her. But before she goes advises Solomon, or Schlomo as he is called, to always keep his secret and make the most of his life as his mother has instructed him to.

The fact that tragedy has been a part of young Schlomo’s life has transferred itself in his constant fights at school, his refusal to eat and other anti-social behaviors which has the administrators of the program contemplating his removal until the Harrari family steps in and adopts him as their own. Self proclaimed left wingers Yoram (Roschdy Zem) and his wife Yael (Yael Abecassis) along with their two biological children take the boy in, immediately show him love and fierce loyalty as Schlomo slowly emerges from his shell but never forgets about the mother he left behind.

It never gets easy however for Schlomo who does manage to find a trusted confidant in ancient religious advisor Qes Amrah (Yitzhak Edgar). Over the course of time Schlomo grows into a teenaged boy (Moshe Abebe) where he faces racism and ostracism, even from within his adopted family. As a young man (Sirak M. Sabahat) he discovers even greater challenges as he has fallen in love with a woman who’s family will not accept him, lives in a country that resents him, feels attached to nothing and no one and still has this secret he’s been harboring since he was a child that threatens to derail the small levels of joy he’s managed to carve out of an extremely difficult life.

‘Live and Become’ is a very deep and very complex film that goes into a lot of detail on a number of subjects in near epic fashion. I appreciated this greatly because as a person of color who prides himself on possessing a solid knowledge of all the history of people of color around the world, I was admittedly completely ignorant of this small piece of world history. The background information given to us, in addition to teaching us, was essential in understanding the character of Schlomo, what he was dealing with and the justification for his reaction to certain situations. As engrossing and as informative as the story we are watching happens to be, it is up to the actors involved to keep us involved in this story so that we don’t feel as if we are watching a glorified documentary, and the performances were nothing less than spectacular. Young Moshe Agazai, who quite honestly could pass for Denzel Washington’s love child, sets the tone for his character, and the film, with his tough, poignant and painful performance as the boy Schlomo, and the pressure and weight that the child had to endure. A remarkable performance from a child actor to be sure. Equally as effective was the lovely Yael Abecassis who gave an impassioned performance as Schlomo’s buffer to the outside society throughout his life as his loyal, no nonsense surrogate mother and also supplies the movie with its heart. If Miss Abecassis gives ‘Live and Become’ a heart then Yitzhak Edgar supplies the film with a soul with his stellar and joyful presentation of the wise Qes Amrah who represents truth, calm and understanding in the confusion that is the life of the troubled boy.

At two and a half hours the movie was more than long enough and I certainly wouldn’t encourage it to be any longer than it already was but I would’ve liked to have seen more of how Schlomo interacted with his adoptive siblings, particularly the natural son of Yael and Yoram who seemed to resent him, as well as the daughter who cherished him. I would’ve also liked to seen more of the relationship with his adoptive father Yoram, where it went wrong between the two and if there was any resolution to their conflict.

That aside director Radu Mihalienu’s ‘Live and Become’ is a very powerful film with an important story to tell. It is sad, it is tragic but it still has a theme of hope and possibilities amidst it difficult subject matter and plays a lot like a lyrical song to the strength of the human spirit.

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