Go, Live and Become

We were going to try to hit the free showing of Live and Become at the locale Laemmele but it’s basketball season again for The Flower and that tends to cut into the movie nights. The games are great, though.

We were itching to see something, though, and The Flower called dibs on both Wall-E and Get Smart, so we went down to Encino to see Live and Become there. The Encino theater is both more expensive and smaller than the West Hills theater, and the staff is a little more standoffish (though still a billion times more alert than most theater chains around here), but we do venture down there at night because the local Laemmele has its last show in the 8pm range.

Extra bonus: Live and Become was the designated “movie of the week”, so one ticket paid for both of us. Cool.

Anyway. Live and Become (Va, vis et deviens) is a French-ish film directed by a Romanian and featuring predominately French, Hebrew and Amharic languages (with a smattering of Yiddish), about an Ethiopian boy raised in Israel. I had more occasion than I cared to muse over this since the subtitles were all too frequently white-on-white.

During the ‘80s Ethiopian–have to struggle not to type Ethernopian, after “South Park”–famine, Jewish Ethiopians, the Falasha (children of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon, I think) were allowed to escape into Israel. When a Jewish woman’s son dies, a nearby Christian mother sees an opportunity for her son to escape.

Once in Israel, the Jewish mother also dies, and the boy (“christened”, heh, “Schlomo”) ends up orphaned and forced to carry his secret alone.

The movie follows Schlomo from here to his adulthood, and manages to have a truly epic feel. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, it actually felt much faster than the slightly shorter Mongol.

We see the amazing country of Israel, generous enough to accept Ethiopians and petty enough to start little witch hunts to route out the fake Jews, or to treat the blacks badly out of fear of AIDS, an oasis in a truly forbidding desert, but not simple.

And the people are not simple, either. We see good and bad in the same people, though even when the bad comes up, there’s a strong sense of family.

Most fascinating, however, is Schlomo’s journey from ostensible Christian to Jew. He goes to schul (?), has a bar-mitzvah, enters into a formal debate about the color of Adam’s skin in front of the community and rabbis (“the controversies”, they called it), and yet constantly feels like a fraud. And he constantly yearns for his mother while puzzling over her last message to him: “Go, live and become”. But become what?

He tries on several occasions to tell the truth, but somehow it never works out for him.

His journey takes him in several directions, and all three actors (a child, a teen and a young adult) carry the role well. (The teen and the adult didn’t look that much like each other to me, but it was only momentarily disturbing.)

There’s a recurring theme with the moon, which the NYT reviewer calls mawkish, but which I thought were appropriate for the character’s age. Schlomo talks to the moon, and whenever something personal emerges, it’s in the form of one of these monologues. He even incorporates it (inappropriately, I think) into his debate. I rather liked that because, as children and teens, especially that’s what we tend to do: Put things that resonate with us out in public thinking everyone will relate to them.

Also, the same review (which is quite good and more focused than my usual rambling) refers to the movie not diving into Schlomo’s internal struggle enough. Again, I’d consider this a positive attribute. Rather than have him wail about his conflict, the conflict emerges, often in ways even Schlomo doesn’t clearly understand.

What’s particularly interesting about this struggle, at least to me, is Schlomo’s sense of being a fraud. There can be no doubt that from the get-go he studies Judaism with a passion and never once can be seen as just going through the motions. (His Christianity seems to be something he learned by rote.) But by virtue of being in Israel on false pretenses, he never feels right.

And that, along with the struggle to understand (in his heart, surely intellectual he quickly grasps) his mother’s actions, is what gives the movie its focus. I love this aspect of the film: It isn’t about the Falasha in Israel, it’s not about racism and politics, it’s about one person, and how he creates and comes to terms with who he is.

The Boy approved heartily.

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