Va, vis et deviens

Live And Become
Ethiopia in the mid-1980s. During the famine that broke out at the end of 1984/85, Israel and the United States of America helped transport to Israel several thousand Ethiopian Jews known as “Falashas” or, in Hebrew, “Bet Israel”. This enterprise was known as “Operation Moses”. The protagonist at the centre of Radu Mihaileanu’s feature film is a “goy” who, in the midst of all the turmoil, has been persuaded by his mother to pretend to be a Jew so as to avoid dying of hunger. But if truth be known, not one of the boy’s descendants was a member of the Jewish people. In spite of this, the boy manages to get to the Holy Land, where he pretends to be an orphan and is adopted by a family of Sephardic Jews who have emigrated to Israel from France. He grows up in Tel Aviv, living in constant fear of being exposed as a liar on two counts: for he is neither Jew nor orphan, but just an African boy.
The boy grows up and learns about Judaism and western values; he also learns about racism and the war in the country’s occupied zones. Although he becomes a Jewish-Israeli-French citizen, he will never forget his mother or his true identity. He is an Ethiopian who has survived.
As the film’s director Radu Mihaileanu comments: “People are too often judged by old and dated stereotypes: Arabs, Jews, Algerians, Rumanians, French and Germans… Such identities are restrictive and approximate. They are wrong. They fail to show how cultures interact, how individual paths and destinies cross each other. This child growing up is, in my view, a child of our century. He compromises with the jolts of history. During the Second World War, the same lie that saved his life in the year 1984 would no doubt have brought about his death.”
by Radu Mihaileanu
with Yael Abecassis, Roschdy Zem
France / Israel 2004 153’

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