Review for Live and Become

Ethiopian Jews, known as the Falashas, were a forgotten faction of the Jewish community until 1984 when Israeli secret service transported 4,000 of them from Sudan to the Holy Land. While they waited in Sudanese camps, people from all regions of Africa came together to battle the effects of famine. It was a mixture of Muslims, Christians and Jews. It was here that a Christian mother tells her son to 'go, live and become' but to do so he must falsify a Jewish heritage.

On his way to Jerusalem, the boy befriends a woman who he pretends to be his mother. When they arrive, the authorities permit 'Solomon' to set up a new life. This is where he learns to wear socks and shoes and discovers television. It is not long after their arrival that his 'mother' falls ill. On her deathbed, she tells Solomon, 'don't say a word to anybody, otherwise, they'll send you back to Ethiopia'. As a stranger in a strange land, Solomon struggles to keep his identity a secret and rebels against Jewish orthodoxy.

How do the authorities control Solomon's wild behaviour? They give him a family. His Jewish parents introduce him to a way of life far different to his own. Solomon doesn't know how to adjust to this sudden change. Instead of sleeping in a bed, he sleeps on the concrete floor and remembers his mother by talking to the moon.

Being the only coloured kid in school Solomon has to battle ignorance. His stepmother is worried. He refuses to eat. He takes off his socks and shoes to walk on the grass. Integration into Jewish society is not easy. When he goes to Torah class, his teacher asks him, 'who is the founder of our religion?' Solomon replies…

As he grows into a man, Solomon accepts his Jewish heritage. He learns he no longer needs to endure a lie in order to 'live and become'. People accept him. He even marries a Jewish girl. With his roots at the forefront of his mind, he becomes a doctor to combat famine in Ethiopia. As he returns to his homeland, Solomon recognises someone from his past…

Film critic Phillip French called Radu Mihaileanu's Live and Become, 'brave, moving and compassionate'. On top of being those things, it is also harrowing, traumatic and painful. The depiction of a Christian mother saving her son from famine in Africa will shake audiences to the core. She gives him a second chance at life by forcing him to abandon his roots. He must pretend to be a Jewish descendant from the Falasha tribe so he can live and become in Israel. This is the greatest gift a mother can provide her son, to offer him a chance of survival away from the harsh realities of Africa.

The idea of survival is something affluent westerners (like us) do not understand. The title Live and Become relates to the half-life Africans must endure in order to stay alive. If you cannot live, you cannot become. Just like a seed needs nourishment to grow into a flower a child needs hope in order to become a man. This is why this coming-of-age portrayal of an African boy finding sustenance in Jewish life is 'brave, moving and compassionate'.

Solomon's plight is not unique. Countless displaced orphans of African had (and have) to abandon their identity in order to develop into somebody new. This is where the internal and external conflict to Live and Become comes from. While living in Jerusalem with his foster parents Solomon cannot adjust to his new way of life. He clings onto his past and converses with the moon, imagining this to be his mother.

As Solomon grows into this new culture, he must endure and overcome societal institutions, the cultural racist divide between black and white, the religious divergence between Christian and Jew and the political magnitude of life in Israel. In one sequence, the young Solomon has a check-up at a Jewish hospital. The doctor grills him about his heritage, 'tell me about your name, your father, your mother, grandparents, your place of birth, your religious education…'

Sweltering under the pressure Solomon recites his make-believe past. This medical visit turns into a harrowing display of persecution in which a doctor and religious fanatic force their Jewish traditions upon African immigrants (who themselves are Jewish). Grabbing a scalpel, the doctor attempts to take a drop of blood from Solomon's penis in order to purify his soul.

When Solomon escapes this ordeal by jumping over the enclosure he arrives back home. He and his foster family watch a television broadcast of Black Jews under persecution. The cinema vérité news-footage reflects the anguish bore on the backs of these people - 'why have we paid such a heavy price in coming to Israel? In Ethiopia, they accused us of being Jews. Here we're criticised for not being Jews. In Ethiopia we were called 'buda' (witches), and here we're treated like 'kushee' (n*****s)'. The comparison to the adversity African Americans had to endure during the civil rights movements during the 1960s is uncanny.

Special Features: None

Verdict: Live and Become is a charming coming-of-age tale that catches the exciting vitality of World Cinema and its capacity to arouse the hearts, minds and souls of disillusioned audiences who have become weary of the classical Hollywood machine and its insistence to shower us with dewy-eyed, lovey-dovey, tear-jerking, sugary slush. Live and Become is a tender portrait of a boy who overcomes personal, cultural and social adversity. A story told with compassion, despair and anger.

Inline Image

Your Opinions and Comments

Be the first to post a comment!