West Bank Story: Lorraine Lévy’s The Other Son

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


Right on time for Halloween arrives Lorraine Lévy’s The Other Son, involving that most nightmarish conceit of all time: children switched at birth and raised by the “wrong” parents.Though the film takes place in the Middle East, its strength lies in the emotional undercurrent of a story that could happen anywhere.

Joseph Silberg (Jules Sitruk), has grown up in an Israeli household under Orith and Alon (Emmanuelle Devos and Pascal Elbé). After enlisting in the Israeli Air Force, a blood test reveals that his blood type matches neither parent. Some medical sleuthing reveals the error (since DNA determines military eligibility). Meanwhile, Yacine Al Bezaaz (Medhi Dehbi), Israeli by birth, has been raised on the West Bank by Leila and Said (Areen Omari and Khalifa Natour). His family is far from wealthy, but he had the good fortune to be educated in Paris.

Both families learn of the swap (the infants, born during the first Gulf War, were placed in the same incubator during a SCUD attack) at the same time, but have mixed reactions on how to tell their sons the news. Both mothers react personally and emotionally, while the fathers bury their sorrow and fear under anger at how their sons have been brought up on the other side.

Joseph and Yacine, however, do not identify themselves by national identity but by their interests. Joseph loves music and longs to be a singer-songwriter; Yacine went to school in France and aims to study medicine and return to Paris. The French connection here is important: Orith was born there and most of the characters speak French, Lévy’s native tongue, providing an additional multicultural bond for many of these inadvertently entwined lives.

Son, adapted by Lévy with Noam Fitoussi and Nathalie Saugeon from on an idea by Fitoussi, asks more questions about who Joseph and Yacine are than what they fundamentally are. Joseph asks his rabbi, “Am I still Jewish?” The rabbi explains that while Joseph was one of his best students, his birth mother was not Jewish, so per Jewish law, he is not a Jew, but can convert. Sadder are the consequences on the home front, including Bilal’s (Mahmood Shalabi) rejection of his younger brother Yacine. But the greater ramifications don’t have time to sink in throughout the film, and are merely hinted at. Lévy’s film skirts truly dangerous outcomes for more melodramatic (and predictable)ones, a choice that limits Son to convention but also makes it feel emotionally familiar to all audiences.

While several of the characters create pivotal dramatic moments, most of them feel cut from the same reasonably sympathetic cloth. Devos and Omari come off the most naturally of Lévy’s performers, since their reactions to the news of the switch feel the most human. Elbé and Natour, conversely, feel a bit more regimented by their characters’ responses, which seem dictated by a story requiring as many emotional boundaries as it does political and geographical ones. Dehbi and Sitruk each struggle a bit more when it comes to realizing their men-children. Still, Son remains a taut reminder for all of those watching to treasure what they have.

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