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Three Graces in the Holy Land
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Live and Become opens with a bird’s eye view of an international refugee camp in Sudan in the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands, including representatives of three religious groups -- Christians, Moslems and Jews -- found their way there due to a long, devastating famine. In 1984, the secret Operation Moses airlift, with the help of the United States and Israel, aimed to transport thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. (The Falasha Jews or “alien ones” are also thought to be the lost Israelite tribe of Dan.) On that particular day a Jewish mother who has lost her son prepares to leave; a Christian mother urges her son (played by Mosche Agazai as a child and Mosche Abebe as a teenager) to go with this woman, telling him “Go, live and become.” She basically hopes that he will survive in Israel. His new adopted mother names him Schlomo, tells him he must memorize all the names of her family and gives him a new faith. Unfortunately this second mother dies shortly after their arrival in Israel, leaving him to play the role of an orphan as well as a Jew, neither of which he finds easy to accept or understand. He is unable to forget his real mother and secretly dreams of her, speaking to the moon as though she were there.

The third mother, a Sephardic Jew named Yoram (Roschdy Zem), who moved from France to Israel, has agreed to her husband’s charity project of adopting Schlomo. Although she is liberal, dealing with all the complicated issues surrounding this boy such as racism, cultural and language differences as well as integrating him into their family which already has two other children is a challenge. In the end, she gives him strength and courage to live and become. He becomes a doctor in France and returns to Israel to marry. Confronted with the issue of not being Jewish, he now has the opportunity to deal with his past and a secret that has tormented him his whole life. Also, he has the chance to seek his real mother in the Sudan.

Writer and director Radu Mihaileanu wanted to break down stereotypes of societies and tried to emphasize individuals as their destinies crossed. Mihaileanu could relate to his own past as a Romanian in France; in the end he changed his name because it was too easy for prejudiced people to stereotype him without knowing him. In this way he has made his own destiny. Live and Become received the Panorama Publikum Prize at the Berlinale this year. It is a moving story where three women make a difference in a child’s existence.

Live and Become was an extremely complicated work of art in which the number three plays a strong role. It began with integrating one story line between three different countries: Sudan, Israel and France. Mihaileaniu had to work with three talent agencies from the various countries to find his main character, Schlomo. Three boys were needed to represent the main character at different stages of his life. They also needed to be able to speak three languages and work with each other very closely in order to copy each others unique characteristics. Since he could not find anyone to fit that description he decided to pick several groups of boys and put them in groups of three. They had to try to learn the languages and the ones who excelled at this were chosen.