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The Palestinian who would be Jewish

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The Other Son (M) Director: Lorraine Levy. Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbé, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi, Areen Omari, Khalifa Natour, Mahmud Shalaby . 101 minutes

'Teenage boys switched at birth' might sound like the setup for a screwball comedy or angsty melodrama. Add a twist to the formula whereby one of the boys is Palestinian and the other is Israeli and the possibilities are rather more explosive. In fact The Other Son takes a rather more subdued approach than you might expect.

The situation does have its roots in the Israel-Palestine conflict. As newborns the boys were taken from their mothers by hospital staff to be sheltered from shelling, and were inadvertently switched.

The error is only discovered when a blood type discrepancy arises as the now late-teenaged Joseph (Sitruk) is in the process of joining the Israeli air force. His war hero father (Elbé) and French mother (Devos) must come to terms with the news while supporting Joseph as he navigates this personal crisis.

Joseph's journey is marked by a series of small epiphanies about identity and about what does and does not define him. These come from a quiet — and sometimes not so quiet — grappling with his central dilemma.

He has been raised to see a division between Arab and Jew, epitomised by the wall that divides Israeli and Palestinian territories. He is supposed to hate those on the other side, but to which side does he belong? Even a near death experience prompts the question, 'If I had died, would I have been buried as an Arab or a Jew?'

Joseph is perplexed to find that the extent to which the division is institutionalised. A Rabbi informs him that although he has been circumcised and celebrated his Bah Mitzvah, the revelations about his biological origins mean he must undergo 'cleansing' rituals to be accepted as a Jew. Religious institutions err when they elevate legalism over human need. In this instance the institution is found wanting.

Of course, as with the Israel-Palestine conflict itself, there are two sides to the story. Over the wall, Joseph's counterpart Yacine (Dehbi) has just returned from medical studies in Paris. His parents (Omari and Natour) inform him of the discovery about his birth shortly after his homecoming. Like Joseph's parents, they are curious about and drawn to their biological son, but desperate to support the son they raised.

In Yacine's story as with Joseph's we see the inter-generational nature of the conflict and hereditary nature of hatred between warring cultures. His brother, Bilal (Shalaby) goes from adoration to hostility in a single moment when he learns of his young brother's true origins. His hatred for Israel runs deep, and its wounded heart is the memory of a third brother, who was killed in the conflict. The breach won't be easy to heal.

The Other Son explores these tensions elegantly and movingly. Its exploration of the dynamics of both families, and of the interaction between them once they meet, is particularly touching. Especially the mothers, who from the moment they are informed of the situation seem to share an intuitive understanding of how the other feels: the unshaken, protective love for the son they raised, and the potent, instinctive love for the son they bore.

Over time, characters are afforded opportunities and the impetus to cross the border, to visit the world and the people who live on the other side of the wall. Joseph and Yacine become unlikely friends, a friendship borne of curiosity and shared experience. What emerges is an understated but optimistic vision of shared humanity beyond conflict that is profound in its gentle persuasiveness. 

Tim Kroenert headshotTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: The Other Son (M) Director: Lorraine Levy. Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbé, Jules Sitruk, Me



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Existing comments

Sounds like a must see movie, thank you.

hilary | 11 April 2013  

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