Title: THE OTHER SON (Le fils de l’autre)
Cohen Media Group
Director: Lorraine Lévy
Screenwriter: Lorraine Lévy, Nathalie Saugeon
Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbé, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi, Areen Omari, Khalifa Natour, Mahmoud Shalabi
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 9/5/12
Opens: October 21, 2012
The other day I posed a question to myself. Osama bin Laden, like hundreds of millions of fellow Muslims, believed that Christians and Jews and most people in the West are infidels. Let’s imagine that bin Laden had been born in Paris of parents who are both French Catholics. What would his religion be? Catholic, of course. Conclusion? What a person believes theologically depends on geography and parentage rather than anything else. Aren’t extremists, then, who are brought up to follow a particular set of beliefs, being silly to maintain that theirs is the only true religion? (One exception would be folks who at the age of eighteen, being of sound mind, decide on the basis of study that they should adhere to another faith, such as, oh, Buddhists in the U.S.)
This bring us to “The Other Son,” which deals with a situation improbable in real life but a staple of movies and TV: babies switched at birth, a theme exploited by Gilbert and Sullivan in “H.M.S. Pinafore” and “The Gondoliers (well-born babies are switched with commoners); by Mark Twain in “The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson” (two babies, one white and one black, are switched resulting in both passing for races that they are not); and in “Desperate Housewives (Juanita Solis and Grace Sanchez are switched by nurse Teresa Pruitt). In Lorraine Lévy’s imaginative and sometimes comic drama “The Other Son,” co-written by Nathalie Saugeon—one in which Hebrew, Arabic, English and French are spoken—an Arab Muslim baby winds up under the roof of a well-to-do Jewish couple in Tel Aviv who have no idea of their son’s “blood” identity, while their own biological infant is nurtured in a hardscrabble West Bank village by parents who are sure that he’s theirs. The mix-up occurred during a confused time when Scud missiles were being launched in Haifa and the little ones are whisked away from the hospital to a shelter.
In this French-Israeli production featuring a multinational cast—one which could be subtitled “Identity 101: Youth Identity Crisis—Joseph Silberg (Jules Sitruk), an eighteen-year-old aspiring musician, and Yacine Al Bezaaz (Mehdi Dehbi), about to enter medical school, learn from their parents that, well, those are not their parents. When Joseph, who has embraced the Jewish faith despite his hidden Arab “blood,” asks the rabbi whether he would still be accepted in the synagogue, the rabbi (Ezra Dagan) notes that though Joseph has been one of his best students, his mother is not Jewish and that hence, despite his circumcision and acceptance of the Torah, he would have to convert. For his part Yacine, a charismatic, handsome lad who had just received his Bachelor’s degree in Paris and who is in no way fanatical politically, is not nearly as crushed as is his militantly anti-Zionist brother Bilal (Mahmoud Shalaby), who now angrily rejects Yacine as a member of the country that is occupying the West Bank. Their parents, French-speaking Orith Silberg (Emmanuelle Devos) and Alon (Pascal Elbé), and Saïd Al Bezaaz (Khalifa Natour) and Leila (Areen Omari), are stunned with no precedent to guide them through the crisis.
Most of the film deals with the inner struggles of the two young men, now saddled with their age group’s typical “who am I?” queries but with a vengeance. Stellar ensemble acting affords us in the audience with a look at Israeli-Palestinian politics from the viewpoint of the two principal men and the hostilities, recriminations, and also the acceptance they exude from the people in their lives. At the same time director Lévy is no neutral observer of the political scene, emphasizing the humiliating checkpoints that West Bank Palestinians have to put up with to enter Israel proper and what she no doubt considers the justifiable rage of the older Palestinian brother against the occupation and the people who are said to have stolen Arab land.
If loose ends are tied up too neatly, and if the political arguments are old-hat, those are minor quibbles against a film that provides credible melodrama, comedy and pathos.
Unrated. 95 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+