With elections around the corner, candidates are reminding voters how important principles of faith and family have made them capable to lead. But what happens when the two are so much in conflict that you doubt your own identity? In The Other Son (Le Fils de Lautre), director Lorraine Levy shows a world where a shift in family can challenge and perhaps create a new kind of faith.
Carefree Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is 18-years-old and about to do his mandatory service in the Israeli military. The young singer would rather hang out with his friends on the beach, who have their own views about their upcoming enlistments. When he takes the required blood test, he’s more scared that traces of drugs will show up to the dismay of his Army commander father Alon (Pascal Elbé) than anything else. The results; however, reveal that he’s not Alon’s son. After a doctor’s investigation, it’s discovered that Joseph was mistakenly switched with the baby Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi) following a missile attack on the hospital during the Gulf War.
However, Joseph wasn’t switched with just any baby, because Yacine’s parents are the Palestinian Said Al Bezaaz (Khalifa Natour) and Leila (Areen Omari). Everyone is equally shocked and devastated by the news, with both parents dealing with the aftermath of relaying the news to their sons in different ways. Prejudices both in and out of the families households are confronted. Joseph’s pride in his Jewish faith is shattered when he’s informed by his rabbi that he is, in fact, no longer Jewish and would have to convert. The Paris-educated Yacine finds support from his family, except from his brother Bilal (Mahmoud Shalaby) who sees him as another Zionist enemy. Med school takes a temporary back seat as he struggles to deal with a new family while coming to grips with his old one. It’s not until Yacine and Joseph spend time together by themselves that they begin to understand each other and work on a way to finding peace that has escaped their respective countries and families.
Switched at Birth tales have been used so often that it’s become easy to get numbed to the inherent drama of the situation. (There’s even a TV show called … you guessed it, Switched at Birth.) Director Lorraine Levy takes the story that she co-wrote with Nathalie Saugeon and treats the families’ story as if someone had died, with each family member traveling alone and together through stages of grief. Yacine’s mother Leila seems to be content with the way things are, only acknowledging her reawakened motherhood during a tension-packed dinner featuring Joseph as the unexpected guest of honor. Father Said is more in denial, but eventually has to turn to the equally closed-off Alon, who by philosophy alone he’s predisposed to dislike. The best performance of the parental quartet is from veteran French actress Emmanuelle Devos. She not only faces the scorn of her husband, who accuses her of being a bad mother for not knowing of the baby switch, but also much struggle with giving into her maternal feelings of wanting to be a bigger part of Yacine’s life without alienating Joseph. Anger, shock, guilt, loneliness and all stages in between are covered in a touching way that will make you look past the political and religious differences that are at the heart of the film.
With so many potential consequences lying in wait for the two families, the ending will undoubtedly anger some. French films have a way of doing that, and this is certainly a French film (though only the educated Yacine and Leila speak French). It’s also worth noting that Hebrew, Arabic and English are also spoken, a balancing act that also deserves kudos to the film’s writer-director.
Regardless the language, The Other Son is one of the best dramas of the year, foreign or otherwise, making a case that the strongest faith may be far away from pulpits and closer to home.
Director: Lorraine Levy
Writer: Lorraine Levy, Nathalie Saugeon, Noam Fitoussi
Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbé, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi, Khalifa Natour
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2012