THE OTHER SON/ LE FILS DE L’AUTRE. Starring Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbe. Directed by Lorraine Levy. 108 minutes. Rated M (Violence, infrequent coarse language and drug use).
If you would like to see a film that tells an emotional story as it dramatizes the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis (and even if you wouldn’t), The Other Son can be recommended.
It may not be the most thoughtful film about the fears and hopes of Israel, about the occupation of Palestine and the political and philosophical/religious implications of the divide, but it shows us images that are definitely worth more than the traditional thousand words and invites us to identify with some Jewish and Palestinian men and women who live the tensions every day. And there is the ever-present wall.
The story has its harrowing moments. It is the story of babies mistakenly given to the wrong parents and the discovery of what happened only when the son of the Jewish family has blood tests before his military service and his blood type is incompatible with his parents. The error occurred during the Gulf War, in Haifa when scud missiles were hitting the city and the children moved for security.
In many ways, this is a familiar story of what happens to children when they discover their birth mother and how they will deal with the mother who brought them up and the newly-found birth mother. That is emotionally demanding in itself, the shock, the questions of identity, how to live with the two families.
What makes this film more demanding on the two sons, and on the parents, is that the Jewish boy has been brought up as an Arab, as a Muslim, and the Arab boy is profoundly Jewish. The Jewish son wants to be a musician, the Arab son has lived with his aunt in Paris and has passed his baccalaureate and will start medical studies.
As might be anticipated, this will be a story of coming to terms with family, ethnic roots and cultural background – and the realization that each young man should have been living the other’s life, in the comparative comfort of a Jewish family in Tel Aviv, or in the poverty and restrictions of a Palestinian village.
This inevitably makes the film somewhat schematic as each discovers the other’s life and lifestyle. The screenplay is also schematic as both fathers and both mothers are involved. Interestingly, it is the mothers who are most broad-minded and broad-feelinged. (The film has a female director.) Each father acts in the hard masculine way of wanting to avoid the issue, denying it, rationalizing it and only then, through personal contact and mutual understanding, come to terms with it.
Each family has a little girl. They are able to break through barriers almost instantly.
A complication comes in that the Arab family has a son who was killed in attacks. The older brother reacts instantly against the brother he has loved, all prejudice against Israel and its oppression surfacing virulently as he can see his brother now only as Jewish. On the other hand, the boy in the Jewish family goes to the Rabbi, since he is devout, only to find that with his mother not being Jewish, he is no longer Jewish and most go through conversions steps. Rigid ideologies can be unreasonable and damning.
The film has so much persuasive dialogue about relationships and human equality and dignity. Filmed on location on each side of the wall – which continually looms high and divisive, along with the humiliating checkpoints – the Arabs discover the affluence of Israel, amazed at people lolling on the Mediterranean beaches, the Jewish family seeing the instant poverty so close to where they live.
If only people could meet, share meals, sing, see others as human beings, then the conflict (with blame on both sides) might move closer to resolution.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released March 7 2013.