Susan Granger’s review of “The Other Son” (Cohen Media Group)
The concept of babies switched at birth is not original. Think of “The Prince and the Pauper” and Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors.” But French-Jewish filmmaker Lorraine Levy adds a new twist: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In Tel Aviv, when an 18 year-old musician, Joseph Silbur (Jules Sitruk), tries to enlist in an elite Army unit and undergoes the requisite physical exam, there’s a problem. A blood test reveals that he cannot possibly be the biological son of his high-ranking Israeli soldier father, Alon (Pascal Elbe), and French-born physician mother, Orith (Emmanuelle Devos). Apparently, right after he was born in Haifa during the 1991 Gulf War, there was a hospital evacuation because of incoming Iraqi SCUD missiles. That’s when Joseph was inadvertently switched with Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), the newborn son of a Palestinian engineer/auto mechanic, Said (Khalifa Natour), and a West Bank housewife, Leila (Areen Omari).
Co-written by Nathalie Saugeon, Noam Fitoussi and director Lorraine Levy, this sensitive family drama delves into how the teenagers and their respective parents react to the news. Deeply into denial, both fathers are reluctant, yet the warm-hearted mothers eventually arrange a socially awkward meeting between their entangled families, as conciliatory curiosity about their ‘other’ son triumphs over resentment of their personal predicament.
Educated in Paris and preparing to enter medical school, Yacine seems to adjust the best, although his virulently Anti-Semitic brother, Bilal (Mahmood Shalabi), is furious that their family has been unwittingly nurturing a Jew. Joseph is stunned and deeply hurt when his rabbi informs him that, although he’s been circumcised and Bar Mitzvah’d, he’s not Jewish unless he goes through a complicated conversion process. Yet, showing remarkable maturity, Joseph realizes his talent and passion for music are inherited from his Arabic father.
The performances are touching and convincing, as the multinational cast gently and subtly conveys an upbeat, optimistic message that adroitly skirts sentimentality.
In French, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Other Son” is a compelling, emotional 8, exploring many facets of self-identity.