The Other Son

A- Middle East Culture Clash Drama

  • Written by Noam Fitoussi, Lorraine Levy, and Nathalie Saugeon
  • Directed by Lorraine Levy

It’s rare treat when I see a new film and have no idea how it’s going to end, and this French/Israeli co-production is just such a treat. As I watched it, I could see it ending in either tragic violence or hopeful reconciliation. Or, like West Side Story, in a combination of the two.

Don’t worry. I won’t give away the ending, except to say that it disappointed me in its randomness. But The Other Son had very few other disappointments.

The plot could have been played for comedy (in fact it has been, in The Infidel), but Levy chose drama. Two families–one Israeli, the other Palestinian–discover that their 18-year-old sons were switched at birth. Everyone’s first inclination is to ignore the discovery–obviously, the son you raised is the son you love–but that isn’t so easy. Slowly, the two young men, their parents, and their siblings, draw together and become an extended family.

But it’s an extended family with a separation wall between them–literally and emotionally. The Palestinian-born Israeli son, Joseph (Jules Sitruk) can’t join the military, and is told by his rabbi that he isn’t Jewish. The Israeli-born Palestinian son, Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), loses the respect of his political activist older brother Bilal (Mahmud Shalaby of Free Men). Both are terrified of the consequences of their friends and neighbors finding out.image

Over the course of the film, the two young men grow a bond, despite not only the cultural and political differences, but their very different characters. Joseph wants to be a professional singer and songwriter, yet he lacks the drive needed to make a living in that difficult business. Yacine, on the other hand, has just returned from a school in Paris, where he did very well on his way to becoming a doctor. There’s a bit of stereotyping here; the boy who didn’t know he was Jewish still grows up to be a doctor.

Speaking of stereotyping, The female characters in The Other Son are far more humanistic and far less stridently political than the men. It’s the mothers who insist on bringing the families together, and the fathers who resist.

Although The Other Son is set and shot in Israel, it’s actually a French production, and that shows. Joseph’s mother is a French Jew who migrated to Israel, and is played by the French actress Emmanuelle Devos. As I mentioned, Yacine studied in Paris. Since the families don’t speak each others’ native language, they communicate in a combination of French and English.

The Other Son doesn’t provide simple answers for the very complex Israel-Palestine conflict. But it does suggest that individuals can learn to get along.