Film Review: The Other Son

Another in a series of film reviews by film critic Jeannie Oppenheimer.

Autumn in Hollywood signals the start of awards season, when studios and film companies release their more adult, intelligent, quality films (which is not to say there weren’t some real gems earlier in the year, most notably Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonlight Kingdom and the French film The Intouchables). Argo, which opened two weeks ago, is bound –- deservedly –- for Oscar gold.  With its seamless intertweaving of drama, suspense and humor, Argo may just be the most entertaining film of the year. Arbitrage, hitting screens a few weeks earlier, was an engrossing, superbly acted thriller, while the exquisite Amour is yet to arrive.

The Other Son, from French director Lorraine Levy, is a small film that is likely to be overlooked –- and it shouldn’t be. It’s the story of Joseph (Jules Sitruk), an 18-year old Israeli man, and Yassin (Mehdi Dehbi), a Palestinian the same age, who discover that they were accidentally switched in the hospital where they were both born. The impact of this revelation –- not only on the boys but on their entire families –- makes for a thought-provoking, emotionally perceptive film whose “message” may be obvious but is no less powerful for being so.  Suddenly the two teenagers discover that they are the very person whom they have been raised to hate and fear. Their sense of identity is completely uprooted; according to strict, Israeli, religious law, Joseph is no longer even considered Jewish. While the two boys’ mothers reach out to one another, their fathers, as well as Yassin’s older brother, simply cannot process this new reality. Joseph’s father, a high-ranking army officer, becomes somewhat of a pariah within the Israeli military when the news gets out. Trained as an engineer but working as a car mechanic, Yassin’s father is unable to let go of the bitterness and hatred that, in some respects, have sustained him through a lifetime under Israeli occupation.

The premise may strike some viewers as melodramatic –- or flat-out impossible –- but the movie easily moves beyond that thanks to the convincing performances and to the very issues and questions that the film raises. Sitruk and Dehbi are especially good as the two young men whose lives will never be the same.