The Other Son (Le fils de l’autre), directed by Lorraine Levy, tells the story of two teenagers, one Israeli, and one Palestinian, who discover they were switched at birth. We follow the two young men as they and their families absorb the shock, re-assess their relationships, and forge new ones. The boys (Mehdi Dehbi and Jules Sitruk) are also forced to question how they fit into societies in which enthno-religious identity is everything.
The Other Son is flawed, but serviceable as a family melodrama. The large cast and conventional running time (105 minutes) mean that some characters aren’t fully realized, and interesting terrain goes unexplored, and the writing occasionally veers dangerously close to stereotyping and cliché. Still, the actors find plenty of places to shine, particularly Jules Sitruk as the sensitive aspiring songwriter who worries about disappointing his father, a military officer. And while the premise steers us inevitably towards melodrama, there is plenty of thought-provoking material to be mined on the subject of identity- a particular stand-out is the scene in which a rabbi kindly but firmly informs Joséph (Jules Sitruk) that he’s no longer Jewish.
Unfortunately, The Other Son aspires to more than kitchen sink drama, and its reach far exceeds its grasp. The film is fine but forgettable as a family drama, but embarrassingly trite as a political fable. Readers with even a cursory knowledge of current affairs shouldn’t need to think too hard to see the political implications of an Israeli and Palestinian being raised by families on the other side of the conflict. Depressingly, the film never reveals any deeper insights than the pollyannaish “hey, deep down, we’re all just the same, man,” platitude inherent in its premise. At several points, the filmmakers seem to actually assert that if Jews and Arabs would just sing together, each would recognize the other side’s humanity, and 60 years of brutal struggle would evaporate. The thoughts that people can and do engage in civil conflict for understandable, rational reasons, or that Israelis and Palestinians are often intimately familiar with one another’s societies seem not to have occurred to the film’s writers (tellingly, neither of whom are Palestinian or Israeli).
In the end, we’re left with half of a fine, if forgettable, melodrama wrapped in an addled Benetton ad, told with the naïve certainty of a freshman campus activist.
Now playing at Landmark’s Egyptian Theater, visit their website for details.