Saturday, November 03, 2012

"The Other Son": Jewish and Arab boys switched at birth meet, and wonder why there is a struggle

The film “The Other Son” (“Le fils d’autre”) explores an obvious personalized opportunity to promote peace.  What would happen if two boys, one Jewish and one Arab, were accidentally switched at birth and raised by opposing families.

The film, directed by Loarraine Levy and written with Nathalie Sauegeon based on an original treatment by Noam Fitoussi, makes this turn out well, because both parents raise really fine sons that can actually deal with the dilemma and become close to one another.  There is, in fact, at one point, a hint that the story could have gone further.  They both like women, but they might have become lovers.  (This idea has been tried in the heterosexual world, with the book “An Affair of Strangers”.) You can perhaps overlook the cigarettes and maybe even a little weed.

The Jewish family, headed by an Israeli Army colonel (Pascal Elbe), raises Joseph (Jules Sitruk), a baby-faced but rapidly maturing youngster approaching his 18th birthday. He takes his physical for Israel’s mandatory military service, and it is discovered that his blood type could not possibly have been derived genetically from his parents.  Soon, investigators discover that during a scud raid (from Saddam Hussein) in January 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, he had accidentally been mixed up with Yacine (Medhi Dehbi), who is being raised on the West Bank in a family with some musical talents.

Joseph, while already dedicated to Judaism (there is a conversation where a rabbi says that Judaism is a “state”, not just a faith), wants to press on his talent to become a composer, singer and Groban-style pop star.  Yacine, on the other hand, has won a scholarship to a university in Paris and will eventually study medicine. 

Yacine may look a little more "mature" at first, but one is struck by how much the people in the area look pretty much alike.  Why didn't the mothers notice the error at birth?  Apparently they had seen the babies just once before they were evacuated and then switched. 

When the boys meet, Yacine turns out to be the more aggressive socially, helping Joseph sell ice cream (at least not Donald Trump’s lemonade) on a crowded Tel Aviv beach.

When Joseph visits his Palestinian Arab parents on the West Bank (Ramallah), he plays a native guitar and sings ethnic music for them over dinner.
The film shows the checkpoint procedures, and has many scenes along the wall that Israel has built against the West Bank.  Filmed in full 2.35:1, it is scenically quite compelling and gives a detailed look at everyday life on both sides of the wall.

The boys both come to feel that they can be both Jewish and Muslim (maybe even gay) simultaneously, and idea that sounds blasphemous.  At a personal level, the whole struggle that their elders have put them into seems senseless.  Maybe an “accident” like this can end what Jimmy Carter calls apartheid in the Holy Lands.

In fact, their experience makes them wonder about the importance of “the group” (whether nation, religion, or biological family) that they belong to, as opposed to themselves as individuals.  (At one point Joseph recoils in horror at the idea of being expected, in the future, to become a suicide bomber.) Groups have to impose conformity to survive as such.  This film is indeed about the value of and vulnerability of individualism. 

The official site from Cohen Media Group (a distributor which prefers films about international issues)  is here

Wikipedia attribution link for West Bank map.

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