They were born in the same hospital on the same day. Amid a missile attack, they were inadvertently swapped and sent home with the wrong families.
Baby swaps are not new fodder for movies.
But “The Other Son” adds a great big wrinkle. A Palestinian baby has been brought up by an Israeli family. Just across the wall in the West Bank, an Israeli baby has been brought up Palestinian.
Then, 18 years later, the young men and their families must cope with a fairly shattering new reality.
French director Lorraine Levy, who co-wrote the script, treads some highly sensitive ground about religious and cultural identity, as well as how a sense of self is rooted in family. All this smacks up against deep old hatreds.
The unraveling begins when Joseph Silberg (Jules Sitruk) has a physical in preparation for his mandatory stint in the Israeli army. He’s worried his blood work might reveal he’s smoked a little weed. His dad, Alon (Pascal Elbé), an Israeli army officer, would be embarrassed.
Instead, his blood type means he cannot be the child of Alon and Orith (Emmanuelle Devos). Hospital records eventually lead to the Al Bezaaz family. DNA testing reveals the parents’ worst fears.
Each couple struggles with how, or even whether, to tell their sons the news.
The mothers are curious to meet the sons they’ve never known, and that helps them move beyond ancient enmity. The fathers have a harder time getting past their prejudices. Alon, after all, is military. And Saļd Al Bezaaz is scraping out a living as a mechanic, because he can’t find an engineering job in the West Bank.
The living standards of the two families are a striking contrast, as is the level of difficulty encountered in passing through the border.
The parents’ first meeting at the doctor’s office is a doozy. So is their second.
Worse, hothead Bilal Al Bezaaz (Mahmud Shalaby) rejects his younger brother Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), with whom he’s shared a bedroom for 18 years, simply because he was born a Jew.
Interestingly, it’s the swapped boys, Joseph and Yacine, who are most able to sit down and discuss what’s happened to them — even though each is clearly confused by his new sense of self. Bilal has been away at pre-med school in France, so he has some perspective.
Both families open their doors in basic hospitality. But when Joseph shows up unexpectedly at the Al Bezaaz home, a strained dinner becomes one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, with an unexpected resolution.
The acting skills of all seven principal characters is superb. Devos, a widely known French actress, is particularly strong as Orith. And the swapped boys are so appealing you have to root for both.
The movie could take this to much darker places but offers a few shreds of hope for the future, principally in its younger generation. But the culminating scene from which that hope grows may feel a little convenient or — to a cynic — unrealistic.
The problem is not solved, obviously. That doesn’t stop “The Other Son” from being a fascinating look at Middle East divisions, and ways they might heal, in microcosm. In English, French, Hebrew and Arabic, the movie is mostly subtitled.
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