Switched-at-birth tale explored
Complicated story examines families, Middle East politics.
It sounds too contrived to work: a film that plays out the venerable switched-at-birth plot line against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in “The Other Son,” French writer-director Lorraine Lévy generally succeeds in creating a compelling, humanistic family drama, even if some viewers may reject the movie’s final note of optimism.
Joseph ( Jules Sitruk) is an 18-year-old who lives in Tel Aviv with his French mother (Emmanuelle Devos), a doctor, and Israeli father (Pascal Elbé), an army officer. A blood test reveals that he cannot be the couple’s biological son. During the chaos of the Gulf War, it turns out, he was switched with Yacine (played as a teen by Medhi Dehbi), the newborn son of a Palestinian man (Khalifa Natour), an engineer forced to earn his living as a car mechanic, and his wife (Areen Omari).
Lévy and her co-writer, Nathalie Saugeon, are less interested in harping on Middle Eastern politics than in examining how the boys and their families sort out the news. Awkward visits are paid across the border, while each family works internally to make sense of the news that they have been harboring a traditional “enemy.”
Not all of “The Other Son” is convincing. We learn that Joseph is musically inclined, it turns out, just like his biological father, and Yacine has been following his mom’s career track. What counts most, though, is the film’s conviction that decency is possible under disturbing circumstances, which the actors clearly seem to understand. Lévy gets expectedly strong work from the veteran Devos, and outstanding performances from Sitruk and Dehbi.