Accidents can happen, but the one that occurs in “The Other Son” is of epic proportions.
In the confusion surrounding a hospital evacuation during the first Gulf War, two baby boys – one Israeli, the other Palestinian – are inadvertently switched. It’s not discovered until 18 years later, when the blood test Joseph Silberg (Jules Sitruk) must take for Israel’s military service reveals he cannot be the biological son of Orith, a French-born physician (Emmanuelle Devos) and Alon, an Army colonel (Pascal Elba).
Further research confirms the bombshell news that’s received grimly by both sets of parents after they’re summoned by the hospital’s medical director to learn there had been a “serious error.”
And so begins writer-director Lorraine Levy’s moving and ultimately optimistic story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict personalized through two families on both sides of the political divide.
The tentative relationships are each fraught with unique inner struggles, but the sweet-tempered teens – Joseph, a musician, and Yacine Al Bezaaz (Mehdi Dehbi), back from studying medicine in Paris – seem most equipped to handle the news head-on as they forge a friendship.
But it’s not easy. Joseph, despite being bar-mitzvahed and having studied at religious school, is told by a rabbi he must convert to Judaism because his biological mother was not a Jew. Nor can he serve in the army’s elite combat unit as planned.
Yacine’s older brother Bilal (Mahmood Shalabi), who resents Israel for occupying Palestinian land, now sees him as an enemy.
The fathers also feel shame and rage over what has happened, and are in denial. Yacine’s father, Said (Khalifa Natour), erupts in fury when the parents first get together over Israel’s “apartheid” policies toward his people.
In contrast, the mothers, Orith and Leila (Areen Omari), accept what has happened and open their hearts – a pathway that the others will eventually learn to do in their own way.
The on-location shooting adds to the movie’s impact, putting viewers on the winding streets of the imprisoned West Bank that hug the large wall erected by Israel, and the busy Tel Aviv streets and glistening beaches where Joseph is later joined by Yacine to sell ice cream.
The ending is a bit simplistic, and on Israeli terms, but “The Other Son” is life-affirming. In such a troubled region of the world, it’s a welcome reminder that personal bonds can still transcend politics.
The Other Son
Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi, Areen Omari, Khalifa Natour
Director: Lorraine Levy
Running time: 105 minutes
Rating: Not rated, but PG-13 equivalent for scene of violence, brief language, some drug use. In French, Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles.
The Lowdown: Two families learn their 18-year-old sons – one Israeli, the other Palestinian – were switched at birth.