FILM REVIEW: The Other Son

Posted: November 1, 2012 in Film
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The Other Son, written by Lorraine Levy and Nathalie Saugeon and directed by Lorraine Levy, is a French film that takes place in both Israel and the state of Palestine.  The film centers on two young men who find out at age eighteen that they had been switched at birth.  Despite the soap opera like inciting incident, the film explores the ideas of nature vs. nurture, of Arab vs. Israeli, and of Islam vs. Judaism.

Joseph Silberg (played by Jules Sitruk) is an aspiring musician but he must enlist in the Israeli army for his mandatory military service.  During his routine physical the doctor discovers that Joseph’s blood type could not have come from his parents.  His mother Orith Silberg (acted by Emmanelle Devos) is a physician and she further investigates why her son’s blood type could not be the biological result of her and her husband.  It is then revealed that Joseph shared an incubator with another baby at a hospital in Haifa, and because of SCUD missile attacks during the Gulf War the babies had been evacuated and somehow accidentally switched.

Upon hearing the news, Joseph and the baby he was switched with, Yacine Al Bezaaz, (acted by Mehdi Dehbi) are both reluctant to accept their true heritage.  Joseph quips, “I’ll have to trade my kippah for a suicide bomb.”

But their mothers are curious to meet their biological sons, while at the same time feeling heartbroken for the sons they have raised.  In a sit down meeting with the doctor, who confirmed the babies were switched 18 years ago, the mothers exchange photographs of the boys they have raised.  But the two fathers walk out of the meeting.  With the men out of the room, the mothers shed a few tears and then hold hands.  The camera zooms in on their embrace to remind the audience that we are seeing an Israeli woman and a Palestinian woman sharing a tender moment.  Director Levy is obviously commenting on the role in which women could play in Middle-East politics.  To suggest that women could get past the more than sixty year old Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is not an unheard of theory.  In fact, many political pundits have put forth the idea that if women held more positions as heads of state, there would be less war in the world.  The very fact that many women are mothers, means they would think more than twice about sending their sons into battle.  Unfortunately this is a mostly unproven theory, but it gives the viewer hope that perhaps there are still unexplored avenues towards peace.

Meanwhile, Joseph and Yacine continue to struggle with their own identities.  Joseph visits the local Rabbi and asks him if he is still Jewish.  He reminds the rabbi that he had been circumcised, had his Bar Mitzvah and studied at the Yeshiva.  The Rabbi tells him that Judaism is not a belief, but …”a spiritual state of being, tied to our own nature.”  He then asks the Rabbi if Yacine is more Jewish than he.  The Rabbi responds “That’s the way it is.”  At this point, Joseph can’t even understand who he is anymore and how everything he has known is no longer true, just because of genetics.  This scene helps clarify the age-old question of nature vs. nurture.  If Joseph was raised Jewish and feels he is Jewish, then how come he is not anymore?

Yacine is more open to explore his new identity.  Having spent several years in Paris at school he has already seen a different world, one where Jews and Muslims live together in relative harmony.  Yacine is also further removed from the oppression and poverty his family still lives under.  The person who gives him the most trouble is his older brother Bilal.  Unlike Yacine, Bilal has never been out of the West Bank and he takes a hard-line with the Israeli’s.  When he finds out his brother is really a Jew, he attempts to disown him right on the spot.

Through the mothers, the families come together for brunch, where oddly enough Joseph’s mother serves bagels.  Perhaps, Levy’s one attempt at humor.  At this gathering, the younger sisters of Joseph and Yacine lock hands, just like there mother’s had done at the doctor’s office, and run off to play.  Their brothers look at them and you can see the envy on their faces.  If only they were naive to politics and the world in which they are living.

With the first meeting out-of-the-way, Joseph and Yacine make multiple border crossings to visit one another and see how the other half lives.  Levy clearly depicts a world of the haves and have-nots.  Joseph lives in a comfortable suburb of Tel Aviv and hangs out with his friends on the beach.  But Yacine lives in a tiny village flanked by cement walls and barbed wire.  He plays soccer with his friends with a dilapidated ball on a makeshift gravel soccer field.  There are no goal posts, orange netting, and lime markings here.  It is through these scenes that one asks themselves how a person’s surroundings not only helps to define who they are, but also what path they will travel on and what opportunities will be open to them in the future.

The film comes to a swift conclusion, with the fathers succumbing to their true feelings and accepting their biological sons.  Even Bilal, the stereotypical angry Palestinian, happily decides he now has two brothers.  Levy leaves the viewer with a warm and fuzzy feeling, but you can’t help but wonder if this is how it really would turn out.  Yacine is allowed a one month visa to cross the border checks unscathed and sell ice-cream on Tel Aviv’s picturesque beaches.  But I kept pondering if poor Joseph will have to give up his privileged life and be forced to move to the West Bank.  This black cloud is never explored in the film and we’re supposed to suspend belief that Joseph gets to stay in Israel, no questions asked.

Ultimately, the boys are not only loved by the parents who raised them, but also by the families who are biologically related to them.  Meaning that with their true identities revealed, both Joseph and Yacine now have richer lives.

  1. V Brooks says:

    Excellent review! I can’t wait to watch this movie.

  2. Veronica says:

    Excellent! I have to watch this movie.

    Well written. I haven’t heard of these movies but after reading your reviews I’m interested in watching them.


    Sent from my iPhone

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