THE OTHER SON Movie about Arabs and Jews

other sonThis is a story about two families; one is from Tel Aviv, the other from the West Bank. They are forced together by a tragedy and, unless Arab and Jew hold out their hands, an even bigger tragedy will befall them all. It’s a compelling tale about love and loss, with a message of hope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will one day end, and the lion will lay down with the lamb. All they need is a good enough reason.

Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is 18 and lives with his French Jewish mother, Orith (Emmanuelle Devos), and Israeli father, Alon Silbwrs (Pascal Elbe) in an affluent suburb of Tel Aviv. On the other side of the boundary wall, Yacine (Medhi Dehbi), also 18, lives in poverty with his Arabic father, Said (Khalifa Natour) and mother, Leila (Areen Omari). Joseph has to undergo a medical for his mandatory military service, the blood test from which reveals that he cannot be the biological son of Orith and Alon. An inquiry is launched, and it’s discovered that Joseph and Yacine were born on the same day, in an Israeli clinic, during the Gulf War. They were evacuated and, when the bombing was over, the babies were given back to the wrong parents.

The audience’s journey begins within minutes, when Orith is informed of the results of Joseph’s tests. She obviously knows she has always been a faithful wife, but she’s also aware that her husband has no such luxury. Despite this, she drops her bombshell news to Alon in the most casual manner, and Alon responds with equal calm. Even the most staid marriage in the world would wobble in the face of such tidings, but these two people take it all in their stride. Not only is this unrealistic, but it’s a missed opportunity for conflict, as there’ s nothing more enjoyable than watching couples duke it out in the matrimonial ring.

Once this hurdle is stumbled over, good times come. Each character tells us their troubles, drawing us into the shadow of the world they are now forced to inhabit. It soon becomes a worry who is going to suffer the most, and who will break the fragile thread that is holding the confused victims together.

Despite the genteel tone of their storytelling, the filmmakers create a minor tragedy of their own by making a plot-driven incident their finale of choice. Had they had more confidence in what they had created, they would have realized that the perfect ending was already in their hands.

It is the moment when Orith emerges from her back gate, to find herself facing Yacine. For the first time, mother and son are alone. They look at each other, and the silence is deafening. Orith, with her heart laid bare, declares her love for the child that she bore; Yacine serenely accepts, but only as his Palestinian mother’s son. At that moment, Joseph approaches. He stops, and he watches. It’s a perfect tableau of an eternal triangle that gives the only answer this story could ever have – there is no answer.

Sub-titled for French, Hebrew and Arabic.

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