Va, vis et deviens (Live and Become) (2005)

 

 

 

Director:    Radu Mihaileanu.

Starring:    YaŽl Abecassis (YaŽl Harrari), Roschdy Zem (Yoram Harrari), Moshe Agazai (Schlomo as a child), Moshe Abebe (Schlomo, as a teenager), Sirak M. Sabahat (Schlomo, as an adult), Roni Hadar (Sarah), Yitzhak Edgar (Qs Amrah), Rami Danon (Papy), Meskie Shibru Sivan (Schlomo's mother), Mimi Abonesh Kebede (Hana), Raymonde Abecassis (Suzy).

French and Hebrew (primarily) with subtitles, following the life of a boy rescued during Operation Moses when the Falashas were airlifted from Ethiopia (1980)

 

Spoiler Waning: below is a summary of the entire film.

They had been forgotten on their mountain tops near Gondar. Ethiopian Jews, known as the "Falashas", dreamed of returning to their homeland, the Holy Land, Jerusalem.

1984. With Israeli and U.S. aid, a vast program was undertaken from November to January 1985 to transport the Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The Falashas returned and finally were recognized as descendants of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

The Israeli secret service secretly carried out the operation keeping it form the Megitsu pro-Soviet regime who had prohibited their emigration. The Ethiopian Jews walked from Ethiopia to Sudan, a Muslim country under Charia law. There they have to hide their Jewish identity under pain of death. In Sudan planes awaited to take them to Israel. Hundreds had died of sickness, famine, exhaustion and bandit attacks.

In the 1980s, the Sudanese camps welcomed thousands of Africans from twenty-six countries who were prey to famine. It included Christians, Muslims and clandestine Jews.

The first secret airlift operation, known as "Operation Moses", saved 8,000 Ethiopian Jews. Many of the children reached the Holy Land alone or as orphans.

At one refugee camp, a womanís boy dies. A young boy tells his mother to eat, but she refuses. She sees the mother of the deceased boy at the burial service for her son. Israeli trucks come into the camp. The young boyís mother tells him to: "Go! Donít cry! Go! Go, live and become and donít come back until then!" Finally, the boy goes over to the waiting line to the woman who just buried her son and grabs her hand.

The Ethiopian Jews get into the backs of the trucks and the three trucks leave. They drive to the airport where the refugees get onto a plane. When they land they are put on a bus and taken to a compound that is guarded by men with automatic weapons.

The young boy gets a shower, but when he sees all the water going down the drain, he starts panicking. An Ethiopian translator has to come over to him and tell him itís alright. Israel has enough water. They are given western clothes. The Ethiopians watch as the staff burns their old clothes.

The Ethiopians give their names and are registered one by one. One of the men is named Adisalem, but the registrar says thatís not a Jewish name. He tells the Ethiopian translator that they will call him Eddy.

The young boy says his named is Solomon. But the Jewish registrar says he will be called Schlomo.

The woman with Schlomo is very sick and she is taken to the hospital. Schlomo waits for her in the hospital waiting room. He goes in to see her. She tells him to keep his secret, to never tell anyone. Otherwise, they will send him back to Ethiopia. She also tells him that he is her son, a Jew from Weleka. Schlomo tells her: "Donít die!" She tells him: "Donít cry!" She dies.

Schlomo is send to a special boarding school. He has a roommate Zwi, but when he tries to introduce himself Schlomo hits hin in the face. The principal scolds Schlomo.

At lunchtime the boys eat together. One of the boy throws something that lands in Schlomoís soup bowl sending soup all over his clean shirt. Schlomo jumps onto the table to attack the offender. The school staff has to break it up.

This time Schlomo has to go to the school psychiatrist. Schlomo doesnít eat. Three of the staff try to force him to eat, but the principal and the psychiatrist stop them. At night Schlomo has a nightmare. He talks to his mother saying that he doesnít want to change because how will his mother recognize him.

Schlomo wrapped in a sheet and walking barefoot, starts walking south to Ethiopia. The principal tells the psychiatrist that Schlomo is driving him crazy. The psychiatrist says the way the boy was dressed indicated that he was headed for his home in Ethiopia.

The principal introduces Schlomo to his new adoptive paretns: Yael and Yoram Harrari. Schlomo says very little. They drive him to their home. On the way they show Schlomo photos of their two other children: Tali and Dany.

When Schlomo comes into the home he has a lot of new people to meet, including grandmother and grandfather, who speak French. He is very quiet through it all.

At dinner the father explains that they are a left-wing family and are not religious. But since Schlomo is, he can say his prayer and they will follow along. Schlomo says that is very nice of them, but just not tonight. In his bedroom at night Schlomo sleeps on the floor.

At school the parents and their children stare at Schlomo and his mother. Schlomo also has to go to religious training. He knows absolutely nothing about Judaism. Schlomo tries to hide in the back, but it doesnít work. The rabbi asks him who is the founder of the Jewish religion? Schlomo says Jesus and all the students turn around and glare at him. At night Schlomo starts reading the Bible.

At school Schlomoís mother is told by a staff member that the parents want to withdraw their kids from school if Schlomo isnít transferred elsewhere. The parents are saying that with Schlomo the level of the school will go down. And they are afraid of diseases from Africa.

Yael is very angry and she shouts to all the parents and children that Schlomo is a very good student and the pimples he has is not from disease but from the stress he has been put under. Yael says they are not the first people to give Schlomo a hard time. She ends by saying Schlomo wonít budge from this school.

At home her husband suggests to Yael that she should let Schlomo work it out with the other students for himself. Yael agrees but she follows some distance behind Schlomo to make sure he is alright.

Dad tells Schlomo to go to bed early so he can get up early. They are going for a medical exam at the immigration service. Schlomo gets all dressed with a packed bag. He is already to roll when his father comes to wake him up.

Schlomo is taken to the Ritual Bath of the Jerusalem Rabbinate. Alone with Schlomo the doctor checks if he is circumcised. All of a sudden the Ethiopians bolt from the institution, even jumping over the walls to get out. Yoram rushes in to grab Scholmo away from the doctor and he and Schlomo climb up and over the outside wall to get away.

On television the news says that the Ethiopians are demonstrating because they feel humiliated by the Chief Rabbinate, who tried to convert them by taking a drop of blood from their penises and dipping them in a ritual bath. The Falashas ask to be recognized as Jews. They complain about the way they are treated Ė like niggers says one of the Ethiopians. The news program seems to upset Schlomo and he retires to his room.

The family goes to the demonstration and Schlomo looks for the leader Qes Amhra-Rehovot. He does not find him. Schlomoís parents hold up a sign: "We Are Jews Like You."

The three males of the family go the wailing wall. Dad tells his two boys that they are to write a wish on a piece of paper, fold it up and put it in a crack in the wall and their wish will come true.

At dinner Schlomoís brother tells the family he read his diary and he was asking for his Ethiopian mother. Dad really gets angry and takes his son to his bedroom. The sister tries to comfort Schlomo by holding his hand.

Schlomo takes a bus trip with one transfer to get to the home of Qes Amhra-Rehovot. He asks the protest leader to write a letter for him in Amharic to his mother. The address is Camp Um Raquba, near Gedaref, Sudan. For the return address Schlomo asks if any return letter can come to Qes Amhra-Rehovotís address. The leader chuckles but agrees to his request.

A few years later.  1989.  Schlomo has his bar-mitzvah.  They sing both Jewish and Ethiopian songs.  Schlomo dances with his mom.  In school Schlomo earns extra money by writing a love letter for Itai to his girlfriend Sarah.  Schlomo gets invited to Sarah's birthday party, but when he arrives with his present, her father slams the door in his face.  Knocking on the door again, the father warns him about knocking again and closes the door in his face. 

A very dejected Schlomo sits in his bedroom.  But Sarah is outside and motions to him to come down.  She apologizes for her father.  Sarah puts one cassette earphone in Schlomo's ear and the other in her ear and they dance together.  She has to leave but tells Schlomo that at least he can't say he missed all the party. 

The next day Schlomo speaks with his rabbi.  He wants to join a contest called a controversy.  Two boys will square off in a debate over a controversy.  He wants to win the contest to prove to Sarah's  father that he knows the Torah and therefore is Jewish.  The next controversy is six weeks away.

Six weeks later Schlomo participates in controversy over the question:  What color was Adam?  The white Jewish boy argues that he was white like God.  Schlomo argues that he was the color of a mixture of clay and water, therefore he was red.  Schlomo wins.  But when he tries to shake the hand of Sarah's father, dad refuses to shake hands.  He tells him to stay away from his daughter or else.  Schlomo is dejected again and this time he goes to the police station.  He confesses that he is not Jewish.  The policeman is a wonderful person and tells him to hang in there, "son".  Don't listen to them, he says.  Schlomo can make it on his own.  The police officer drives him home.  Schlomo looks up at the sky and tells his Ethiopian mother that he is going to be late. 

When he gets home, his father is very mad at him.  Schlomo says he's not his son.  Yoram gets angrier and leaves the room.  Yael decides to send Schlomo to a kibbutz.  There he works in the fields and with the cows.  He names the cow Mandala for his cow back in Ethiopia.  Sarah calls him on the phone and she asks him if he's got a girlfriend.  Schlomo says yes and her name is Mandala. Sarah gets mad and hangs up on him.  To her girlfriend she says:  "The jerk has a girlfriend."  

Grandpa comes to visit Schlomo.   He suggests to Schlomo that perhaps he is working too hard.  And he heard that Schlomo has a girlfriend.  Schlomo introduces the cow Mandala to Grandpa and he laughs.  In the newspaper Schlomo reads about an Arab being killed in rioting after terrorists attacked a bus.  Grandpa says they should share the land with the Arabs.  Schlomo waits for the bus with Grandpa and watches as he gets on the bus to go home. 

Schlomo is back at home.  Sarah calls and asks him if an Ethiopian can marry a white?  He doesn't know.  He talks with his Ethiopian mentor.  He says:  "Yes, we can marry whites but when a white woman marries a black, she becomes black."  Air sirens go off warning of Scud missiles.  They have to put gas masks on in the bomb shelter.  The Gulf War is on.  American General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. is seen on the television. 

Yael suggests that they go somewhere else like France or Canada.  After all, they have two sons and she doesn't want them to become soldiers.  Yoram objects that then only right-wingers will be left in the country.  He says:  "This is my country." 

Several years later, 1993.  The family participates in a peace demonstration.  Later they watch the news about the demonstration.  Bill Clinton works out an agreement between Palestinian leader Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. 

Schlomo meets with Sarah at an outdoor cafe.  She tells him:  "Let's try."  He says that she forgets that he is black.  She tells him she doesn't think of him as black but as red. 

On the television Schlomo sees a report on Ethiopian refugees in Sudan who are dying in large numbers.    He tells his Ethiopian mentor Qes Amhra-Rehovot that he wants to go to Sudan.  Qes tells him that his mother is no longer at camp Um Raquba.  He asks Schlomo if he wants to commit suicide?  Qes says that he saw his son butchered before him like a dog by their guides and their henchmen.  His son was trying to stop them from raping  his wife.  They killed her three days later.  His wife died of a broken heart.  Qes says he now serves those who survived, like Schlomo.  Saddened Qes tells him to go now. 

Schlomo goes to an Ethiopian night club.  A pretty Ethiopian woman comes up to him and takes him to a back room.  She sits on his lap and tells him if he wants to go any farther, he will have to pay her.  He gives her some money and she runs away with it.  Then two guys come in and ask what he was doing with their sister?  They give him a bad beating and then throw him out of the club.  Schlomo goes back to his mentor's house, throws stones at it while shouting at his mentor.  The police arrive,  throw him to the ground and hand-cuff him.  Qes saves Schlomo by running out of the house shouting that's his son to the police officers. 

A little later Schlomo tells Qes that he's not Jewish, but he guesses that he has known that all along.  He says the army forced his father to fight the Eritrean rebels.  He was killed while fighting them.  A year later the drought killed Mandala, their cow.  They headed south.  His sister died of disease and exhaustion.  Schlomo doesn't remember where she's buried but one day he will find her grave.  In the camp his mother sent him for water with three coins.  He had to walk to the water source which was controlled by a gang.  They took his money but then refused to give him his money back.  He made a fuss and soon others joined in his protest.  All of a sudden the situation turned violent.  His older brother jumped in to help Schlomo.  The Sudanese soldiers had to break the fight up.  When the crowd cleared away he saw his older brother dead.  He was stabbed to death for just three cents. 

Qes tells Schlomo that it was not his fault. He was only nine years old.  And his mother didn't want to punish him.  She said for him not to return in order to save him, to make him live.  Qes takes Schlomo to see a doctor friend to get him stitched up. 

Sarah is shocked when she sees Schlomo's face.  She and Schlomo walk on the beach.  Schlomo tells her that he is going to become a doctor.  Sarah tells him:  "You're running away!"  She adds:  "I won't wait for you."  When Schlomo tells Yoram, he becomes very angry and says he's running away so he won't have to serve in the army.  He is a coward.  Yael sticks up for Schlomo and says that he will study medicine in Paris. 

As Schlomo waits for his flight to Paris, Yael speaks with him.  She says that she didn't want to adopt him.. In fact, she was really against it.  Yoram was the one for it.  Everyday he talked about it.  But as soon as Yael saw Schlomo, she was happy about the adoption and has loved him ever since. 

While Schlomo is in Paris, he receives letters from Sarah.  Schlomo hears on the news that Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, has been assassinated. 

Schlomo graduates and becomes a doctor.  He talks to Qes and he tells Schlomo not to come home.  There is a big trial of those Ethiopians who passed themselves off as Jews.  The Ethiopians are accused of being liars and traitors.  He tells Schlomo to stay in France.

But Schlomo doesn't stay in France.  He serves in the Israeli army patching up the wounded.  Another officer tells him to just fix up the Israelis first and the others later.  As Schlomo is answering the officer, he gets shot. 

In the hospital, Schlomo's family comes to visit him.  Then Sarah comes in to see him.  Everyone leaves, but Yael stays behind.  She tells Schlomo that Sarah is crazy about him and after ten years he had better tell her he loves her or else.  She calls Sarah into the room and then leaves. 

Sarah marries Schlomo.  Her parents and siblings did not show up.  Her father says that she is dead to him.  Grandpa comes over to talk with her  He says that with time things will get better.  Qes comes over to Schlomo and tells him that he must tell Sarah that he is not Jewish tonight.  Schlomo starts to tell her but then chickens out.  He doesn't want to take a chance on losing her. 

Some months later Sarah comes in to tell Schlomo that she is pregnant.  She is very happy.  At this time Schlomo tells her that he is not Jewish.  She says then it's been ten years of lies with him and her.  She becomes very angry and leaves him.  Yael goes to talk with Sarah.  She tells Sarah to try and imagine what it must have been like for Schlomo and his mother.  The mother gave her son up so he would have a chance at life.  The whole thing was extremely traumatic to Schlomo.  She says Scjhlomo didn't tell her because he was afraid of losing her.  She says to her that sounds like love. After some more talk, Yael tells her:  "Don't leave him, Sarah!"   

Sarah returns to Schlomo.  She says she can't believe how many mothers love him.  Sarah says he must promise her something. 

Schlomo works at a refugee camp.  Sarah telephones him.  She is with her baby who Schlomo hears in the background.  While talking with his wife, he sees his mother sitting in front of her tent.  He tells Sarah that he thinks he can keep his promise to her.  Schlomo takes off his shoes and walks over to his mother.  He tells her that he loves her.  They hug and she screams with joy. 

 

Good movie.  Both my wife and I enjoyed it.  She thought it was a rather sad story with the death and starvation of the poor Ethiopians and the racism in the state of Israel.  Those are definitely sad things, but I saw the movie as a positive one of a young fellow from Ethiopia persevering against all the odds against him.  He triumphed and true love triumphed, despite the racism.  But he did have a terrific French-Israeli adoptive mother who always loved him and always supported him.  So I like to concentrate on the success story part of the film, while still acknowledging the sad things revealed in the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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