Live And Become (12a) tells the story of a young Ethiopian boy who escapes the famine in his country to begin a new life in Israel. Caroline Westbrook offers her verdict.
In 1984, at the height of the Ethiopian famine,the Israeli authorities launched Operation Moses, which involved rescuing Jews from the afflicted region. Live And Become, a sweeping drama which has already played at Jewish film festivals around the world - uses that mission as a backdrop, to tell the tale of a young non-Jewish boy whose mother persuades a Jewish woman whose son has just died to let him assume the dead boy's identity, in order to allow him to escape the famine.
He escapes from Ethiopia as a result, but when his new 'mother' also dies, he is adopted by an Israeli family and, after a rough start, eventually settles into his new life. However, as the years pass, he is haunted by the reality of his past as well as the truth about his religion - and he begins to wonder how long he can truly keep his identity a secret.
Live and Become is the latest film from director Radhu Mihaileanu, who originally made his mark on Jewish movies with the quirky Holocaust drama Train Of Life (which followed the inhabitants of a shtetl and their efforts to fool the Nazis with a fake deportation train) With this effort he once again gives an interesting spin to a Jewish theme, and given the hard-hitting subject matter and powerful first half hour, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a depressing experience.
However, Live And Become turns out to be more uplifting than you'd think, as our likeable protagonist has to face everything from life in a new country, and learning about a religion he's allegedly supposed to have been born with, through to more general themes including awkward teenage romance and family conflict. The film's main focus is on this part of the story, and it's an approach that works - although Israeli politics do cast a shadow over the action, it's not a political movie and these themes are never allowed to dominate.
On the downside, it's a long, slow film, one which requires effort and concentration - and the leisurely pace won't appeal to everyone. That said, the brave film and engaging story carry it through, and establish Mihaileanu as a director who isn't afraid to try something different with well-worn Jewish genres. If you can withstand the two and a half-hour running time and don't mind subtitles, it's well worth checking out.