Dir.Radu Mihaileanu. Fr-Is-It-Bel. 2005. 153mins.
Highlyemotional but massively overlong, director Radu Mihaileanu's Live And Becometackles a burning issue of our time, the search for identity. Here he follows ablack Ethiopian Christian over the course of 20 years, from when, aged nine, heescapes amid a convoy of Falasha Jews being flown to Israel.
Thereis much to be said to Mihaileanu's credit, for his heart is in the right place.But by attempting to cover too much ground in one go, he only scratches thesurface of complex issues that require far deeper examination.
Thefilm's main audience is likely to be liberal, non-specialised audiences whowill embrace Mihaileanu's message that what counts is the person, not thenational label he or she wears. Best prospects may lie on the small screen,where the saga would sit much more comfortably as an even longer TVmini-series. The film opens in France, its first major territory, on March 30.
LiveAnd Become's advantage lies in itssimple, straightforward delivery of a life story that, with minor adjustments,could be translated to any refugee experience worldwide.
Mihaileanu'stale, inspired by the life story of an Ethiopian Jew he met in California,opens in an African refugee camp during the 1984 famine. There, a mother (MekiShibru Sivan) pushes her son into a throng of Jews about to board an Israeliplane, telling him he should never divulge his real identity nor ever return. 'Liveand become," she implores him.
Oncein Israel, he is renamed Shlomo and initially refuses to speak, eat orestablish contact with anyone. Finally he is adopted by a French Sephardifamily (Yael Abecassis and Roschdy Zem), but remains an outsider throughoutbecause of the colour of his skin and the secret of his origins.
Heendures misery both at school, where pupils rub his skin to see if it comesoff, and society at large, when the religious authorities try to submit all theFalasha males to a second circumcision to confirm their Jewish identity, onlysurviving through the love of his adoptive family and Falasha leader (ItzhakEdgar).
Aftergraduation at medical school in Paris he returns home to serve as a medic inthe Israeli army, is wounded and then marries his white girlfriend, despite herfamily's opposition. Ultimately he learns that the terrible secret he had tokeep for himself was terrible only because he kept it a secret.
Thereare few topics in recent Israeli history Mihalieanu doesn't touch upon one wayor another, but he says too little about any of them. Dialogue is either inAmhari, French or Hebrew, and events are described rather than shown. This, andthe less-than-smooth editing, all raises suspicions of a much longer anddetailed version, reduced at considerable pain to its present running time.
Profoundlycommitted performances from Moshe Agazai (Shlomo at age nine), Moshe Aebebe (asthe teenager Shlomo) and Sirak M Sabahat (the adult Shlomo), are fiercelyintroverted yet effectively project the blaze burning inside the mainprotagonist.
Prodcos: Elzevir Films, Oi Oi OiProds, Cattleya, K2, Transfax, France 3 Cinema, RTL-TVI, Scope Invest
Int'l sales: Film Distribution
Prods: Denis Carot, MarieMasmonteil, Radu Mihaileanu
Scr: Radu Mihaileanu, AlainMichel-Blanc
Cine: Remy Chevrin
Ed: Ludo Troch
Prod des: Eytan Levy
Music: Armand Amar
Main cast: Moshe Agazai, MosheAbebe, Sirak M Sabahat, Yael Abecassis, Roschdy Zem, Roni Hadar, Meki ShibruSivan, Mimi Abonesh Kebede, Raymonde Abecassis, Rami Danon, Itzhak Edgar
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