By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Movies addressing seemingly unsolvable problems reside at the top of the level-of-difficulty scale.
Which makes the achievement of The Other Son all the more remarkable.
This drama from French director Lorraine Levy takes a nature-versus-nurture premise made familiar down through the years in comedies and farces -– babies accidentally switched at birth -– and uses it as the premise of a head-on consideration of the thorny, eternal, and overwhelming Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Levy certainly doesn’t ignore the politics of the situation, but keeps it in the background while she concentrates on putting a human face on it.
And she succeeds admirably in this riveting, poignant gem.
Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is an 18-year-old Israeli musician who has signed up to join the Air Force. But a blood test reveals that he cannot be the birth son of Orith (Emmanuelle Devos) and Army commander Alon (Pascal Elbe), who live in a Tel Aviv suburb and are stunned by the news, to say the least.
It turns out that the maternity ward in which Joseph was born was being bombed during the Gulf War and in the panic and confusion that occurred, the baby was inadvertently switched with another baby sharing his crib, the newborn of Palestinian parents Said (Khalifa Natour) and Leila (Areen Omari), who live on the West Bank and whose son, Yacine (Medhi Dehhi), just graduated from college in Paris and is about to start medical school.
Each set of parents went home with the wrong baby -– the Palestinian couple would go on to raise the Jewish baby while the Israeli couple would raise the Arab baby — and no one would be aware of it until now.
Through a succession of awkward visits, stilted conversations, and nervous trips over the border, both sets of parents get to know their biological sons -– with the mothers meeting the challenges inherent in the inescapable situation with a lot more grace than the fathers, and the younger generation bringing a refreshed outlook to the standing enmity.
What the new reality absolutely demands, however, is that every family member in each household, parents and siblings alike, must confront his or her attitudes, prejudices, resentments, and deep-seated hatred of the other family.
The ultimate identity question, “Who am I?,” gets an insightful and provocative airing in this stunning work by an “outsider, ” a French filmmaker trying to be objective or at the very least fair to folks on both sides of the border.
Director Levy, who co-wrote the quietly devastating and strongly empathetic script with Nathalie Saugeon and Noam Fitoussi, works in four languages (English, French, Hebrew, and Arabic) and gets wonderful work from her large ensemble cast.
And if the ending leaves something to be desired -– juts as it would in real life -– perhaps it’s a tribute to just how fine all that has preceded it has been.
It would be overly glib to describe the film as a “feel-good” drama about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but it comes tantalizingly close to that as it offers an optimistic ending that stops short of wishful thinking after forcing everyone involved to reevaluate their lifelong animosity.
Perhaps the ultimate compliment to the film is the inescapable desire in this viewer that everyone should see it –- especially those living with the conflict every day.
So we’ll switch 3½ stars out of 4. The Other Son doesn’t pretend to change the world and solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, but does make an eloquent case to be included in any dialogue about it.