Sunday, December 4, 2011

Go, See, and Become / Live and Become / Va, Vis et Deviens post-mortem

Another live chat transcript!

To summarize: This film traces twenty-ish years in the life of a young Ethiopian immigrant to Israel whose mother insists he pose as a Jewish boy in order to escape a Sudanese refugee camp. He is adopted by an Israeli family, and combats racial and religious discrimination as he grows up.

t: So it wasn't boring.
N: No. Two thumbs up for the first French movie we've seen that isn't boring. I'm not asleep.
t: I think it sort of fell apart in the last third.
N: Yes, they tried to cram much too much. We had potential war, potential army service abroad, going abroad, going to school, becoming a husband, becoming a father, coming clean to everyone in his life, going to Ethiopia, and finding his mother. Not that I wanted it to be another hour long . . .
t: So should we recap it a bit? I have to admit, I didn't know anything about "Operation Moses," Ethiopian Jews, any of it.
N: Or the extent of the persecution of Ethiopians who might have been posing as Jews, or not.
t: So for that reason I think it's an important movie.
N: Yes. Especially for American audiences, giving us information we wouldn't have known. And like we said it ended badly, it started slowly . . . giving us information in a voice-over. I thought it would have been better to give that information through the film. We don't get the story of how Schlomo got to the camp until two hours in with his voice . . . and I think it would have been fine to cut the voice-over at the beginning. It works better as he tells his own story to get the information as he reveals it to the other characters rather than in a documentary-style opening.
t: I thought the youngest kid was the most appealing. I like all his rage and shame. I think that as he got older, the film got a lot more story-driven rather than character driven. Like you said, we have to get him to the kibbutz, to medical school, married, a father, etc. It didn't feel as emotionally resonant.
N: Yeah, and the kid was such a good actor. He was screwing up his face and responding to people in the school trying to force-feed him, handle him, etc. As he got older, the trauma is more removed, more subtle. It's purely psychological rather than a physical attack.
t: As he gets older, the abuse oddly gets less racialized. The attack from the prostitute's family is not specific to his race or religion.
N: Yeah, but it mirrors the attack on his brother (from the camp)--which was needed because it acted as a catharsis for him to be truthful, and to face his own truth.
t: And I found it interesting at the beginning that he was trying to tell the truth about his lack of Jewishness, and no one was able to hear him.
N: Yeah, the cop is the best example. Which is reassuring, but at the same time totally frustrating. They're not hearing him that he's not actually Jewish. Which I think is the big question of the whole film. What does it mean to be Jewish?
t: Yeah. Because he does the practice. He learns the language. He learns the Torah. Do you think it has something to do with matrilineal inheritance? That because Jewishness is traced through the mother, accepting a Jewish identity would be to deny his Ethiopian mother? There's a lot going on with mothers in this movie.
N: It's an interesting nature vs. nurture question. He's had three mothers.
t: All fierce, I might add.
N: To respond to what Jonathan said about The Big Lebowski, this movie is good for women, of all religions. We've got the first mother, making the ultimate sacrifice anyone can make, to give up someone in order to save that person. She has no more family. And she's in a place where she would likely die. Even though the film stretched it and made her live.
t: Spoiler alert.
N: Which isn't a huge surprise.
t: Yeah, because to me, the movie got really sentimental towards the end. And we need to talk about the Sarah problem.
N: Sarah needed two to three extra scenes in which she was likable before they got married. Because otherwise before they got married, we saw her ten seconds before he proposes, and then the last scene we get her in, she's saying you went overseas because you were jealous and didn't want to see me fall in love and have someone else's babies. Which is a problem.
t: And I thought until Yael said to marry her that she was just using him because her father disapproved.
N: That part did not work. If they put in a few scenes where we get her actually starting to be honest with him and acting like she likes him as opposed to using him or just dating him because he's black and he's a novelty . . .
t: It almost makes me feel like this was based on some source material that they cut a ton out of.
[We check the Internet for information]
N: According to IMDB, there's no source material. And he spent A LOT of time in Paris in the last third. At least eight years.
t: So do we think it needs to be seen before death?
N: Sure.
t: Why?
N: I didn't know any of that information, and it was a compelling story in spite of the problems. And it seems to be a problem that world citizens should be aware of . . . those concerned with humanitarian acts, and all. Are there still Ethiopian camps going on?
t: Are there still Ethiopian Jews being airlifted to Israel? And for me the question is do we need a movie? What about it is cinematically necessary? Is this information that we couldn't get from any other source? I agree that this is a historical/social event that needs to be known, but why a movie? I'm wondering what this movie gives us that couldn't be accomplished in a 20-30 page profile in the New Yorker.
N: I think that they got in too deep at the end. But I think it humanizes it in a way that a magazine article couldn't. Maybe they should have just told the story of his life as a boy. I don't know how they could have wrapped it up. But maybe a novel could have done it?
t: Yeah. I enjoyed the movie definitely. But . . . it's the last third that fails as a movie if not as a cultural document.
N: Does the last third ruin the entire movie?
t: It doesn't ruin it, but it makes me question its place on this list. Just like the justification for The Big Lebowski's justification is it's a cult movie, my problem with this is that it it's only on this list because it's historical information we nee dto know.
N: Well, let's compare it to Hurt Locker. Is the only thing about Hurt Locker is that it gives us information about this war, these men who disable bombs, that we need to know that this movie helps expose?

And here is where it would be helpful to have recorded our conversation with an audio or video device of some sort . . . we started talking too quickly and being too interested in the conversation to record a transcript. Sorry! Basically, we started debating what a movie needs to do--does a movie need only give us information, does it need to be brilliant the whole way through, etc.--and what makes a movie "good" and worthy of the list. We came to the conclusion that, between Hurt Locker and Go, See, and Become, it may be only a matter of personal preference and what one is able to forgive more easily in terms of cinematic flaws. Natalie tends to dislike war movies and likes coming of age stories whereas Tracy is more apt to like an interesting look at masculinity so Natalie prefers Go, See, and Become whereas Tracy *may* prefer Hurt Locker (Tracy wants to re-watch before making that concrete). Ultimately, we talked about how the movies are doing similar things and both are about diffusing a literal or figurative bomb, and what that constant diffusing does to a person. And, we came to the conclusion that we'd rather take off four-ish Buster Keaton films rather than get rid of any of this little triumvirate; there is a place for all three of these films whereas some of the films that have made it all three versions could be edited out. Perhaps we'll set a thing to record audio after we watch hurt Locker when this conversation is liable to continue.

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