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SUNDAY 11TH MARCH 10.00 am

At a 1984 Sudanese refugee camp sheltering Ethiopians displaced by civil war and famine, the Israeli secret service has begun Operation Moses, airlifting thousands of Falashas, Ethiopian Jews, to Israel. A non-Jewish Ethiopian woman finds a way for her 9-year-old son (Moshe Agazai) to join the Falashas, telling him to "go, live and become". Renamed Schlomo, the boy is adopted by a loving, liberal Israeli family. However Israel, rather than being the promised land, turns out to be rife with racism and intolerance. Through an Ethiopian-community leader Qes Amhra (Yitzhak Edgar), the teenage Shlomo (Moshe Abebe) is helped to write letters in Amharic to his mother (Meskie Shribu Sivan). But it takes several more years, and some heartbreak, before the grown up Shlomo (Sirak M. Sahabat) can 'become'.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It is not surprising, perhaps, that the film won three major awards at the Berlin Film Festival but only managed three nominations for art direction, costume design and supporting actor (for Sirak M. Sahabat) from the Israeli Film Academy. I say this because when the film begins, the Israelis are seen as the angels of mercy as they rescue thousands of Jews from Ethiopian refugee camps, but the intolerant and racist attitudes found in Jerusalem by these saved souls rather tarnishes that glowing image.

This is to the film's credit, insomuch as it adds a layer of unpleasant veracity in the less obvious elements and portrays the irony of the situation. Schlomo himself lives through this turbulence, and we see him suffer as a result. Isolation and loneliness, the pain of having left his mother, and the conflicted response of a community that reaches out a hand and then withdraws it.

Of course it's a bit more complicated than that because the boy's lie, that he's Jewish, underpins his existence. And the Jews of his new home are unforgiving about this.

As a piece of cinema, Live and Become is a touching and engaging work, spanning some 20 years of Schlomo's life. A fine cast delivers complex characters and the screenplay speeds through years that are not central to its story of how indeed Shlomo went, lived and finally became.

We witness a myriad of experiences that touch Schlomo emotionally and we feel every one of them, from the pain of rejection to the confusion of a strange culture. His adoptive family in Jerusalem declare themselves left wing and caring, but these are notions that are proscribed by their rigid value systems.

It's easy to pass judgment on others, of course, and the film makes that very point. Live and Become is a long film but it never wastes our time; it makes us reassess the important things in humanity.


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