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PARIS — Making a feel-good movie about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be a recipe for disaster, but French writer-director Lorraine Levy manages to avoid many, if not all, of the pitfalls in her touching family drama, The Other Son (Les Fils de l’autre). A high-concept tale of two young men – one Israeli, the other Palestinian – accidentally switched at birth and raised on the wrong side of the struggle, the film features terrific performances from its multinational cast and an overtly positive message that never quite succumbs to pure sentimentalism. Art house audiences will easily adopt this certifiable crowd-pleaser, whose U.S. rights were nabbed by Cohen Media Group.
Joseph (Jules Sitruk), is an 18-year-old musician hoping to join the Israeli air force, though his real goal is to be a folk singer along the lines of Dylan. His parents, France-born physician Orith (Emmanuelle Devos) and Israel-born army commander Alon (Pascal Elbe), live in a comfortable suburb of Tel Aviv, and all seems hunky dory until a blood test for Joseph’s military service reveals that he’s not, in fact, their son.
A meeting with a doctor in Haifa quickly resolves the mystery: During the Gulf War, Joseph was evacuated from a clinic along with another baby and then — oy vey iz mir – they were mixed up and given to the wrong families. While the Palestinian Joseph went home with the Silbers, their actual Jewish son, Yacine (Medhi Dehbi), followed Arab couple Said (Khalifa Natour) and Leila (Areen Omari) back to the West Bank.
Once the truth is out, Levy and co-writers Nathalie Saugeon and Noam Fitoussi explore the rippling effect it has on the two families, with each trying to cope with the fact that their own flesh and blood has been raised across enemy lines. Yet rather than dipping into pure melodrama or piling on the socio-political messages, the filmmakers tend to keep things extremely personal, revealing the emotional repercussions of the events on each character, as well as the human costs of the decades-long conflict.
Surprisingly, Joseph and Yacine seem to bear the bad news with more maturity and understanding than everyone else, and the fact that Yacine was educated in Paris rather than Palestine, and that Joseph is a free-thinking liberal, make it easier for them to accept their new identities. The same doesn’t go for their two fathers, and especially for Joseph’s (blood) brother, Bilal (Mahmood Shalabi), who carries a hatred for Israelis after years of growing up in the occupied territories.
Despite such hurdles, the film’s ultimate message is heard loud and clear: Bloodlines run thicker than political boundaries, and decades of conflict cannot quell a mother’s love for her son, or a young man’s taste for freedom. Given the current situation in Israel, such a resolution may seem like wishful thinking, and the closing reels seem to all-too-neatly tie up the many questions of class, religion and identity that are posed by the narrative.
Although both the plot and politics share similarities with Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, The Other Son is almost the opposite in terms of mood and style, with Levy (Mes amis, mes amours) and cinematographer Emmanuel Soyer applying a warm color palette and lots of close-ups to keep the action as intimate as possible. Strong location shooting and set design reveal the stark contrasts between life on either side of the defense wall, and the scenes where the two sons visit the homes of their respective (real) parents are particularly memorable.
If vets Devos and Elbe take top billing and offer up strong turns, the most memorable performances come from the two youngsters: Dehbi (Looking for Simon) movingly portrays Yacine as a charming go-getter who’s built a better life for himself abroad, while Sitruk (Son of Rambow) reveals Joseph to be a dreamer whose heart outweighs his ambitions and whose curiosity and honesty might very well save the day.
Production companies: Rapsodie Production, Cite Films, France 3 Cinema, Madeleine Films, Solo Films
Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbe, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi, Areen Omari, Khalifa Natour, Mahmood Shalabi
Director: Lorraine Levy
Screenwriters: Lorraine Levy, Nathalie Saugeon, Noam Fitoussi
Producers: Virginie Lacombe, Raphael Berdugo
Executive producer: Itai Tamir
Director of photography: Emmanuel Soyer
Production designers: Miguel Markin, Eytan Levy
Music: Dhafer Youssef
Costume designers: Rona Doron, Valerie Adda
Editor: Sylvie Gadmer
International sales: Cite Films
No rating, 105 minutes
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