“The Other Son” (“Le Fils de l’autre”)
Yes, the “switched at birth” scenario has certainly been done before. But probably never with the Palestinian/Israeli twist to it.
The story begins when the boy raised in the Israeli family, Joseph Silberg (Jules Sitruk) takes his Army physical when he turns 18. The blood test comes out incompatible with his parents, and Mom, Orith (Emmanuelle Devos) knows this because she works at the lab, and Dad, Alon (Pascal Elbe) finds out because he’s a Colonel in the Defense Forces. When Joseph repeats the blood test, Orith knows there is no mistake. Joseph cannot be her son.
This is like a classic grief process for every character involved: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, depression, readjustment…..you know the drill. Orith realizes that her husband suspects that he cheated on her, and has to suffer the humiliation of assuring him that this is not so. But what to do now?
Her contacts at the lab arrange for DNA testing, and eventually discover that on the day Orith gave birth, in Haifa because she was there visiting her sister (the Silberg family lives in Tel Aviv), the Scud missile bombing caused the hospital to be evacuated, and sure enough, in the confusion, Joseph was switched with the other infant in the nursery, a Palestinian baby boy, whose name is Yacine Al Bezaaz (Mehdi Dehbi), whose family lives in the Occupied Territory.
This is not like it happened to one family living in Minneapolis and the other in St. Paul. These two families, though in close physical proximity, are hugely divided, along ethnic, racial, cultural, and political lines, not to mention economically. They don’t even speak the same language. The Jews in Israel speak Hebrew, and the Palestinians speak Arabic. Their religions are different: Jewish and Muslim. Their place in their parallel society is different. And worse, there is an automatic hatred and mistrust for “the other side,” and very little interchange, other than at military checkpoints, where one side has the weapons, as well as the control, and the other doesn’t.
The administrator at the hospital arranges a meeting with both sets of anxious parents. He, of course, wasn’t there on the day the “terrible accident” occurs, so he is free to blame his predecessors. His prevarications, though, are little comfort to anyone. He is uncertain even which language to speak, and finally settles on English, which apparently is everybody’s third choice. It turns out that both families have some French connection: Yacine’s mother Leila (Areen Omari) has a sister who lives in Paris, and Yacine has just passed his university exams there. Orith was born in France, and Alon is himself half-French, and they had decided that French would be spoken in their household to make that cultural heritage part of the family upbringing. Leila’s husband, Said (Khalifa Natour) is an engineer who has to work as an auto mechanic because he can’t leave his village. Yacine has an older brother who seems to be nurturing enough hatred to become a terrorist, and he is the one who has the most difficulty with the whole idea. Joseph is devastated to hear the rabbi tell him that he really isn’t a Jew anymore (it’s a genealogy, not a belief system). The Dads don’t seem to know what to say, especially to each other. The Moms try to open their hearts, but can’t forsake a lifetime of affection. So it’s the 18-year-old boys themselves who work at befriending each other, and becoming acquainted with each other’s lives, however unlikely their friendship.
Yes, the whole Israeli/Palestinian clash is a big mess, and this film doesn’t pretend to solve it. And yet, the forced cross-cultural exchange creates a small crack in the wall of hostility and division, which is just enough hope to make peaceful relations worth pursuing. After all, as the movie itself reminds us, Isaac and Ishmael had the same father, Abraham.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas