Other Son, The (2012)

Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbe, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi, Areen Omari, Khalifa Natour, Mahmood Shalabi, Diana Zriek, Tomer Offner, Ezra Dagan.

Director: Lorraine Levy
Rating: PG-13 (for a scene of violence, brief language and drug use.)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Date: October 26, 2012
Home Video Release Date: TBD
North American Box Office: $TBD

Rapsodie Productions, Cite Films, France 3 Cinema, Madeleine Films, Solo Films, Orange Cinema Series, Useful Production, and Cohen Media Group.

Written by: Lorraine Levy and Nathalie Saugeon; story idea conceived by Noam Fitoussi.
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1/2 (out of 5 stars)

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict finds potential insight through a new prism, the switched-at-birth gimmick, in Lorraine Levy’s drama The Other Son, a film which moves from the festival circuit to a small scale North American theatrical release.  The notion of a Jewish baby and a Palestinian baby being given to opposite families, unbeknownst to all involved, certainly opens the door for some provocative political exploration, while offering a compelling and moving story along the way.  While well acted and certainly with noble intentions, The Other Son is unfortunately so mundane, predictable and heavy-handed that the impact is muted and the movie simply misses its mark.

There are some intriguing elements in play here and director Levy’s third film, one in which she co-wrote the screenplay, introduces us to Joseph (Jules Sitruk), freshly 18 and ready to enter the military, but more interested in becoming a musician.  Joseph, born to Palestinian parents and raised in an orthodox Jewish family, is in place of Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), born to Jewish parents and raised in the West Bank, but who, in spite of his impoverished upbringing, is in the midst of his first quarter of medical school.  It is Joseph’s blood tests and a failure to match his blood type to his parents’ blood that brings forth a problem that Joseph’s mother, Orith (Emmanuelle Devos), must rationalize and share with her confused husband, Alon (Pascal Elbe).

For Yacine’s family, wealth has been nonexistent and his family have had to scrap and fight for every gain they have made in life.  Setbacks have been many and their experience lies in direct contrast to the successful and even relatively affluent life that Joseph has experienced.  Returning home from boarding school in Paris, and ready to embark onward to medical school, Yacine and Joseph’s families break the news to them and their siblings.  The resultant fissures and fractures are felt in various different ways by siblings, relatives, the parents, and children themselves.

With all of this set up so fitfully compelling, The Other Son starts with a bang but quickly slows its pace to a point where every element of the story develops at less than optimal speed.  A film like this needs contemplation, character journeys, and should breathe a little bit, since the story is so remarkable in its promise and conception. After awhile however, the breathing becomes labored and the lack of urgency results in inactivity and the film becomes aggravating in its malaise.

Hanging with it does reap the rewards of seeing some fine performances from the two young actors the film focuses on, Jules Sitruk and Mehdi Dehbi.  Their scenes interacting with one another do have a special weight to them and when they are on screen, the film retains a flickering light of uplift and potential power.  Veteran French actress Emmanuelle Devos feels miscast in the role as Joseph’s guardian mother, and while she is a storied and acclaimed actress, her performance just never resonated with me, despite her obvious talents and skill.

In totality, The Other Son starts a conversation it inexplicably seems ill equipped to see through to its inquisitive end.  Those who appreciate their dramas slow and measured may give The Other Son a lot more slack then I seemed to, but I simply kept expecting that the film would deliver something profound beyond the intriguing interactions between the switched-at-birth sons.  A key component to analyzing this would be the effect all of this would have on the parents and despite those scenes existing, including one odd English-language sequence with the clinical director of the hospital where the mistake occurred sharing information, we never get below the surface.  The emotions on display seem to be only the most obvious and easy ones to figure out. Perhaps it overshoots the mark to expect a film with such a premise to deliver an emotional wallop, but the conceit of the film is one that it is not an unreasonable expectation.

I recall an awful John Travolta film from 1995, White Man’s Burden, which proposed a scenario wherein white people had experienced slavery and discrimination in the United States and African-Americans had experienced unmitigated opportunities and success.  Foolishly and ridiculously, the film assumed that stereotypes and behaviors were absolute and that sociological inequities and social issues would simply exist the same in that world as they do in this one.  In doing so, White Man’s Burden reduced every single human being to essentially a robot, a walking cliche that dangerously and arrogantly assumed the worst in people and society as a whole.

Thankfully The Other Son comes nowhere near those same trapdoors, but does nonetheless miss the opportunity to put any depth or meaning behind its obvious thesis that, in switching the Jewish and Palestinian children at birth and raising them in each others culture, the warring societies can and should find a way to co-exist.  Levy makes everything far too simple and while I will always fall on the side of love and tolerance, and applaud the film’s message, its lackluster style and approach to its argument makes The Other Son instantly forgettable and easily dismissible.

SHOULD I SEE IT?
YES
  • I love the idea and found some of the performances quite good.
  • Those with an interest in the history and the politics of the region will be instantly intrigued by this premise and film.
NO
  • I still wrap my head around trying to figure out where this missed with me.  Maybe a second viewing would help, but I truly find the film’s melodramatic tone disappointing.
  • Did I mention it is predictable as well?  The film plays as if the original idea was all the filmmakers felt they needed to make a good film.  You need more than a great concept.

 

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