April 23, 2014

Love is not all you need

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Other Son offers a simplistic take on a complex affair

A scene from The Other Son.
By Pablo Suarez

Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is a young teen who, though having a penchant for music, decides he wants to join the Israeli air force. As part of the required procedure, he submits to a blood test which shows that he was switched at birth by mistake (the hospital was a war zone at the time of his birth). Joseph’s father, Alon (Pascal Elbe), an army-commander, is blown away by the news, while his mother, Orith (Emmanuelle Devos) is profoundly moved, but doesn’t feel a catastrophe has been unleashed. She actually takes the time to look for Joseph’s biological parents, Said (Khalifa Natour) and Leila (Areen Omari), who are Palestinians and have raised Orith’s biological son, Yacine (Medhi Dehbi). Needless to say, they are also completely unaware of his son’s real identity. After some conversations and discussions, parents and children meet. From here, new stories are to be written.

Lorraine Lévy's Les fils de l'autre (The Other Son) tackles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a somewhat novel perspective, and does quite a good job at laying out the essentials and some of its ramifications. It builds up emphatic, believable characters and downplays all possible melodrama. Instead, it goes for a description of the state of things and an exploration of the many subjectivities involved as it draws a sensible portrayal of how each member of the two families reacts to the news. Therefore, expect a good exposure of issues related to cultural identity and displacement, with their respective political and social implications. Religion is also a key issue, of course. As far as setting up the conflict and developing its first steps, The other son is both sensible and believable. It even achieves a degree of sustained tension that makes the entire affair all the more compelling.

However, halfway through the film (and almost until the end), the complex scenario kind of vanishes and a sense of “things don't have to be that complicated” enters the scene. Better said, The other son seems to say that even if things are complicated, people can still make a difference if they really strive hard, largely thanks to love and the importance of affections. Which is a very nice notion that applies in many contexts, but the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not what it is simply because of a lack of love. And it won’t be solved thanks to good will.

So when it comes to the scenes involving the most personal consequences of switching the babies at birth, let’s say the nonpolitical aspects, Lévy’s film hits the right notes: you believe what’s happening to the characters, you care for them, and an overall sense of narrative verisimilitude is ensured. This is due not only the proper scripting of the early and middle part of the film, but also to the fine performances from the entire cast. You feel close to the characters and their plea. But sometimes not even good performances redeem a scene for being farfetched and unwillingly manipulative (like when Josephs breaks into a song at the dinner table when visiting Said and Leila and is joyfully joined in by his newfound family).

In opposition, when grand ideas about the ideological sides of the conflict are talked about, the film becomes simplistic and naive — at best. And this is when you realize that a potentially rich story has been turned into a canvas with few colours and even fewer nuances. In other words: The other son becomes smaller and smaller as it unfolds, and by the time it’s over, there’s almost nothing of what made it exist in the first place.


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