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Year: 2005
UK: The Works UK Distribution
Cast: Yaël Abecassis, Roschdy Zem, Mosche Agazai, Mosche Abebe, Sirak M Sabahat, Roni Hadar, Meskie Shibru Sivan, Mimi Abonesh Kebede, Rami Danon, Avi Oria Yitzhak Edgar
Director: Radu Mihaileanu
Countries: France / Israel
Language: Aramaic / Hebrew / French (English subtitles)
UK: 140 mins
UK Certificate: 12A contains strong language and moderate violence
UK Release Date: 30 December 2005

(in French)


One boy dies. Another takes his place.
To survive, he must pretend to be what he is not.
His mother commands him: "Go. LIVE. BECOME."
He obeys, though he does not understand.

Live how? Become what?

The year is 1985. "Operation Moses" is at its peak - the massive airlift of thousands of "Falasha", Ethiopian Jewish refugees, who are fleeing oppression in their native country. One Jewish boy, marked for a rescue-flight to Israel, dies as the story begins. Another boy, a Christian (Moshe Agazai), secretly takes his place. He does so with the tacit cooperation of both the dead boy's mother, and his own mother.

At age 9, "Schlomo" (as he is renamed; we never learn his earlier name) is too young to realise that his life is being saved. He knows only that he is being cruelly separated from his real mother, and that he must never reveal his true identity to anyone. Israeli authorities are very severe about deporting pretenders they discover among the rescued. His adoptive mother dies, apparently of tuberculosis, very shortly after they arrive. Schlomo is now completely on his own. He proves a gifted but difficult student. He learns Hebrew easily, but refuses to eat. In his heart, he speaks to his mother in Africa each night by addressing his thoughts to the moon, overhead. He picks fights with schoolmates. He even flees the dormitory one night, headed south to Ethiopia, wearing little more than a bedsheet. The authorities overtake him and arrange for Schlomo to be adopted by a liberal, French-Israeli couple Yaël (Yaël Abecassis) and Yoram (Roschdy Zem).

And so begins the most hopeful, and healing journey of Schlomo's young life. The way is still fraught with difficulty. He not only has new parents, but new siblings and a warm, droll new grandfather (Rami Danon). They all adjust to one another by stormy degrees. However, a deep and mutual love is gradually forged, especially between the boy and his new mother, Yaël. She becomes his ferocious protector when the parents of Schlomo's schoolmates recoil from his colour and what they imagine to be the diseases he may have brought with him from Africa. Yaël will have none of it. She curses their pettiness and wins the confrontation.

His adoptive father Yoram is no less fierce in his love, especially when a group of fundamentalist clerics at the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem manhandle the boy in a misguided effort to ritually "cleanse" him, in tandem with every other Ethiopian they can lay hold of. Through this episode, which triggers a riot and afterwards sparks vigorous marches of protest, we become privy to rich layers of conflict and nuance in Israeli society, which are seldom communicated in news media.

Around this time, the boy pays a visit to a prominent Ethiopian rabbi he sees on the television, Qes Amhra (Yitzhak Edgar). Qes agrees to write letters to Africa for the boy. If the old man suspects that his new young friend is secretly a gentile, he lets it pass.

As a teenager, circa 1989, Schlomo (now played by Mosche Abebe) falls in love with local beauty Sarah (Roni Hadar). She is as much in love with him, but her father vehemently, even brutally, opposes the match. Racial prejudice is a factor. Yet Sarah's father also intuits something we and Schlomo know to be true - that deep down, he is inauthentic. Schlomo counteracts this by mastering the Torah. He enters a steep intellectual competition known as The Controversies, in which he must debate profundities of Scripture with no margin for error. Qes tutors him in nuances of spiritual law, but advises him to understand it from his heart.

Schlomo is obliged to debate the skin colour of Adam. The very topic is a pointed insult aimed at him by Sarah's father, one of the judges, yet Schlomo speaks to it beautifully. Nevertheless, her father remains unmoved by his triumph. Sarah still loves him, but as he becomes an adult (played by Sirak M Sabahat), Schlomo keeps her at arm's length. However deeply he has assimilated, however passionately he has embraced the spiritual and intellectual rigors of Judaism, there is no one he feels he may trust with his secret. Moreover, he longs to be reunited with his biological mother.

The eventful, surprise-filled climax of Schlomo's journey centres on the reconciliation of these particular sufferings, and his bold actions towards healing...

From writer/director Radu Mihaileanu maker of the acclaimed TRAIN OF LIFE a new film about mysteries of survival, identity, and the healing force of love.

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