As much as possible, I go into screenings not really knowing anything in advance about the movie in question. Obviously with higher profile movies I’m aware of general buzz or often it’s a movie I’ve been anticipating and following based on the talent involved, but once in a while I walk into a movie completely cold. If there’s an actor or director I like or I trust the publicist or even if there’s just a hole in my screening schedule to fill, I’ll take a chance on almost anything. Had I known in advance the basic plot of The Other Son, I might have skipped it because the story of an Israeli and a Palestinian family who discover that their two sons were switched at birth just sounds too pat and convenient. It turns out though that director and co-writer Lorraine Lévy is less interested in manufacturing drama from her tale than she is in teasing out the real ramifications of it. No empty melodrama, The Other Son explores notions of family, identity and culture and how sometimes the barriers between us are the ones we erect ourselves.
Imagine at age 18, when you’re still trying to figure out who you really are, you discover you’re not even what you thought you were. That’s what happens to Joseph (Jules Sitruk) when a blood test in preparation for Israeli military service reveals he’s not really the biological son of his parents Orith (Emmanuelle Devos) and Alon (Pascal Elbé). Not only that, his real parents are Palestinian couple Leila (Areen Omari) and Said (Khalifa Natour) who in turn unknowingly raised Orith and Alon’s biological son Yacine (Medhi Dehbi) as their own. The two babies had been switched at birth when their hospital was evacuated during a Scud missile attack in the first Gulf War. Naturally the revelation turns both families upside down and brings them into conflict with one another.
The somewhat preposterous set up could easily have been milked for maximum conflict, but the dramatic arc has a gentler swell to it. It’s a device to examine deeper problems of identity. Joseph is just a typical teenager who wants to be a musician and meet girls but who is facing down his mandatory military service. Suddenly he’s the enemy and everything about a life he’s always taken for granted is revealed to be a lie. Or is it? What makes us who we are? Is it a line drawn on a map? Is it a cultural belief or is it something more?
Rather than offering pre-conceived answers to these questions, The Other Son uses its story as a sort of “What If?” scenario from which it charts a plausible conclusion. The answers and the message evolve organically and are never preachy or political. Rather than choose sides, the story gives both families an opportunity to air their grievances. In the end, The Other Son is not about how different we are, but instead how much we really have in common. As such, it is a refreshingly gentle appeal for peace.
Filed under: Review