Lorraine Lévy: An Interview with the director of “The Other Son”

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in NY Press Exclusive.


Photo courtesy Cohen Media Group

By Doug Strassler

 

The Other Son, an Israeli film co-written (with Noam Fitoussi and Nathalie Saugeon) and directed by Lorraine Lévy, is a moving drama that hits on plenty of international hot-button issues.  Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is an 18-year-old musician preparing to join the Israeli army for his mandatory military service who lives at home in a comfortable suburb of Tel Aviv with his parents, France-born physician Orith (Emmanuelle Devos) and Israel-born army commander Alon Silbers (Pascal Elbé). A blood test for Joseph’s military service reveals that he is not their biological son; during the Gulf War Joseph was evacuated from a clinic along with another baby; and both were then raised by the “wrong” parents. While the Palestinian Joseph went to Tel Aviv with the Silbers, their actual Jewish son, Yacine (Medhi Dehbi) was brought to the West Bank by the Arab couple, Said (Khalifa Natour) and Leila (Areen Omari).

 

“I am not a political person but what happens in Israel touches me very personally,” Lévy said in a telephone interview.  “The question of identity is what interests me most. In my three films as a filmmaker [The First Time I Turned Twenty, London Mon Amour, and Other], I address the same question.” She feels that individuals have the chance to experience a sense of rebirth many times over the course of a lifetime. “It is possible to be born again, and then born again elsewhere as you travel down the path that life takes you. It exposes you to other intellectual ideas, religions, and philosophies. You’re a different person from what you were in the beginning. You’re more of a whole being.”

 

Lévy stresses that the fundamental themes of identity and change were what Other is really about, rather than the politically charged plot at its center. “I worked hard for it not to be a political film but an ideological film,” the French director explained. “It’s constructed like a geopolitical fairy tale. I wanted to show something that could have happened in reality, but it’s not as though it’s a documentary. I was looking for a story with a strong dramatic structure about coming together, a quest for identity. These are two brothers who are by definition enemies but who manage to join together, to make a pact with each other in mutual existence.”

 

She also wanted everyone involved in the movie to live in a similar state of mutual understanding, Before arriving in Israel to shoot the film, Lévy distributed copies of Amos Oz’s “understanding the Other” to the unit heads on her crew. “I wanted to give them a sense of what direction we were going, so we had the same philosophical starting point,” she said.

 

Her efforts have not been in vain. Globally, Other has been highly acclaimed so far (it opens in limited release stateside next week). “I am pleased that it has been well-received by both Arab and Jewish communities in France,” she said. “It goes beyond Israel and Palestine. If in some way I can put together something that suggests a rapprochement between these different sides, that would be very important to me. I want it to be a movie that brought people together.”

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