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‘Le Fils de l’Autre’

by Kaori Shoji

You’d think it would be impossible to make a movie about Israeli-Palestinian issues that was not mired in political arguments. But filmmaker Lorraine Levy (“London Mon Amour”) has done just that. In a simple, lovingly shot film about two families, Levy gently takes the bull by the horns and has it sit on the grass, where it stays calmly for the film’s 105-minute duration.

A thousand things could go wrong when Orith (Emmanuelle Devos), a Tel Aviv doctor, and her husband Alon (Pascal Elbe) discover that their son Joseph (Jules Sitruk) was accidentally switched at birth with a Palestinian baby during a Gulf War bombing. Miraculously, they don’t. Perhaps it reflects the mood among some people in Israel and Palestine that they’ve had enough conflict and are ready for a shift in the paradigm.

Still, as a proud father and an Israeli Army official, Pascal is devastated by the news. Across the border, parents Leila (Areen Omari) and Said (Khalifa Natour) are equally shocked. When the four meet in the hospital where the switch was made 18 years ago, it’s the mothers who try to do the constructive thing by exchanging photographs of their sons and making terse conversation. Orith even manages to get Leila’s home phone number. Before long, she tells Joseph the truth, which prompts Leila to do the same with her son Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi). The secret is out, and it’s now up to the dads to acknowledge the massive elephant crowding the room.

Le Fils de l'Autre ("Mo Hitori no Musuko")
Rating
Director Lorraine Levy
Run Time 105 minutes
Language Hebrew, Arabic, French and English (subtitled in English and Japanese)

They take their sweet time though; amusingly, both men deal with the problem by tinkering with their cars. Alon spends all night washing and polishing his, while Said crawls under the engine and shuts out the rest of the world. When they finally decide to have a talk — man to man — they sit glumly and silently in front of their coffee cups in a crowded cafe.

Just as their fathers are slow to adjust, the sons are flexible. The resilience and optimism of the two boys is a delight to see — especially Yacine, who is studying to be a doctor and plans to build a local clinic with his older brother.

Yacine has lived in the shadow of war and poverty on the West Bank his entire life. Joseph has enjoyed a much more privileged existence in Tel Aviv: a beachfront house, music lessons, the freedom to hang out at clubs with girls. The inequality is obvious, but Yacine doesn’t let it get to him; rather, he goes over to Tel Aviv to help Joseph with a summer job and to take in the sights and sensations of a life that could have been his. Plaintively and without resentment, Yacine tells Joseph to be more aware of his blessings, to value his life and “not mess things up.”

We’re so used to seeing and hearing stories about strife coming out of the Middle East that a movie like “Le Fils de l’Autre” (whose English title is “The Other Son”) assumes fairy-tale proportions. Gently, gradually, the two families come together as the sons become friendly, sharing visions of respective futures untainted by war or segregation. It may be idealistic, but it’s the kind of idealism that seems well within reach, as though we have only to wish for it hard enough and it will be realized. “Le Fils de l’Autre” moves you with the sheer clarity of its vision, and the generous depth of its hope.