It’s not uncommon for those who rightly resent being biologically categorized on government questionnaires, to defiantly write in ‘human’ when asked to indicate their race. And the same holds true in its own compelling but curious way for the switched at birth DNA-driven identity crisis drama, The Other Son.
A French production directed by Lorraine Levy and filmed in Israel and the West Bank, The Other Son draws two disparate families from that divided space into a traumatically personal conflict of their own. And meant to symbolically mirror and possibly negotiate the greater tumultuous politics of that region.
The relative stability of the two families in question – the Israeli Silbergs and the Palestinian Al Bezaaz kin in the West Bank – is shaken up when eighteen year old Joseph Silberg (Jules Sitruk) puts his musical aspirations on hold to report for mandatory military duty. But an army blood test confirms that he could not be the child of his parents. Which is in itself odd, that a military on such permanent alert would be so thorough, especially since Joseph’s father is a high ranking commander.
And what comes to light, is that during a Gulf War missile attack near the Haifa hospital where Joseph was born, a Palestinian mother gave birth at the same time. And in the ensuing confusion, the babies must have been released to the wrong women.
In any case, Joseph’s distraught parent’s first wavered, and then seek out the Al Bezaaz family. And Yacine (Medhi Dehbi), their designated ‘other son’ in question, who has returned home for a visit from his medical degree studies in France. While alternately fearful and hopeful mixed emotions become entangled, compounded by a profound cultural divide along with two fathers into deeply disapproving denial.
Though lacking subtlety in the conveying of its intricate plots points, the story, not unlike the families involved, is infused with a rare sensitivity and compassion. And at the same time never relinquishing to the temptation to overload the psychological conflicts with exaggerated melodramatic manipulation, to which they could easily fall prey.
And in an intriguing casting switch up in its own right that may seem solid on paper but confuses and distracts on the screen, Levy has placed in the roles of the Palestinian and Jewish youth respectively, French actors who are the opposite in their own ethnic origins. And who additionally, look nothing like their biological parents in the film either.
Okay, we get it. When it comes to the larger race – which is and hopefully will always be ‘human’ first and foremost – physical differences shouldn’t matter. On the other hand, to cautiously refrain from taking sides in any wishful thinking regard, can potentially benefit neither.
And what has always tended to divide people through history extends far beyond physical or cultural ‘can’t we just all get along’ pleas, to far more complex issues of economics and political power and domination. And those critical factors should never be buried, even in fiction, under sentimental appeals which change nothing.