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OTHER SON, THE

SYNOPSIS:
As he is preparing to join the Israeli army for his national service, a blood test proves Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is not his parents' biological son. An investigation reveals he was inadvertently switched at birth with Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), the son of a Palestinian family from the West Bank, both having been born in Haifa during a missile attack in the Gulf War. The revelation 17 years later turns the lives of the two families upside-down. Joseph is the son of a wealthy French-Jewish family, his father a colonel in the IDF. Studying to be a doctor, Yacine has recently returned from Paris, where he discovers the family and world he left is no longer the same.

Review by Louise Keller:
All the explosions are internal in this explosive drama by Lorraine Levy in which fundamental truths are questioned and emotions turned inside out. The impact of two babies accidentally switched at birth in Israel has profound consequences, not the least being that one is brought up across enemy lines in Palestine. Levy (who co-wrote the screenplay with Nathalie Saugeon, from an idea by Noam Fitoussi) has created a film that delicately explores the personal issues and ripple effect to the families as a result of the revelations. The issues surrounding identity, birthright, religion and parentage are not small ones, yet it is the small things that touch us the most - like a mother's urge to kiss the son she has not seen for nearly 18 years.

A routine blood test result when applying for acceptance in the Israeli airforce is the initial catalyst that alerts the family of Joseph Sukberg (Jules Sitruk) that a mistake has been made. The hospital's apology in front of the two sets of parents seems insignificant after awkward introductions and clumsy silences. We have already met Joseph's comfortably off family who live in Tel Aviv: his father Israeli army captain Alon, (Pascal Elbé) and his French-born doctor mother Orith (Emmanuelle Devos) are struggling under the strain. With implications too huge to even voice, there are no initial questions, except the request from both mothers to see a photograph of their natural born sons.

Saïd Al Bezaaz (Khalifa Natour) is unable to discuss the issue with his wife Leila (Areen Omari) and their older son Bilal (Mahmood Shalabi) is devoured by hatred, after a lifetime of accumulated resentment of Jews. The scenes when both sets of parents tell the boys the truth are moving and confronting; it feels as though a wound has been opened. Joe's immediate reaction questions his Jewishness, while Yacine Al Bezaaz (Mehdi Dehbi), who has been studying medicine in Paris is able to accept matters far easier than his sibling.

The young men are able to deal with the issues best: Joe and Yacine bond over selling ice creams on the beach. The two mothers have no difficulty with communicating with each other; it is the bonding and acceptance of the two fathers that brings the greatest emotion, coupled with Bilal's reaction when he comes face to face with his blood brother.

The performances are all excellent, the emotional building blocks emanating from the two sets of parents. Ultimately it is the credibility of the two boys that pivots the film, as the family rule book needs to be rewritten and beliefs and values reassessed in an evolving and shifting plateau. It's a fascinating concept that makes us look inwards to explore the impact of bloodlines and upbringing as well as what really counts.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The original idea for this screenplay comes from Noam Fitoussi - and original it is. It is also highly relevant, poignant and interesting, exploring the essence of identity, exploring the nature of prejudice and setting it within the context of family - and the Israel/Palestine conflict. It's a rich field to mine.

Fitoussi's two writing collaborators Lorraine Levy & Nathalie Saugeon helped forge a nuanced and restrained screenplay which leaves space for us to interpret and to approach, without stating that which is obvious. Crucially, the sensitivities involved are beautifully judged and displayed, helped by a wonderful cast.

Jules Sitruk as Joseph and Mehdi Dehbi as Yacine carry the burden of not only delivering their complex characters but also of being credible as the switched sons of Israeli and Arab parents. In this casting nutshell lies some of the film's most potent yet unstated proposition: if these two young men are physically interchangeable, they are also the same inside. That of course, is the irony of the conflict in which they were born; other than their religion-driven cultures, the Arabs and the Jews are more alike than they are different.

The two sets of parents are well defined, and the inner turmoil of the mothers in particular is clearly portrayed, as are the complex, sometimes contradictory responses of the fathers - and of Yacine's elder brother, Bilal (Mahmood Shalabi), who finds it the most traumatic. His once beloved brother is now 'one of them' - a Jew he has been brought up to hate. In this relationship lies the hard core of the tragedy of the Middle East. Incidentally, the original French title carries a more nuanced but pointed meaning: The Other's Son.

While the film never shuns the political setting, its focus is on the individual, the human element and the various forces and influences that create our unique identity.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

OTHER SON, THE (M)
(France, 2012)

Le fils de l'autre

CAST: Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbe, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi, Areen Omari, Mahmood Shalabi, Khalifa Natour, Diana Zriek, Marie Wisselman, Bruno Podalydes

PRODUCER: Raphaeel Berdugo, Virginie Lacombe

DIRECTOR: Lorraine Levy

SCRIPT: Lorraine Levy, Nathalie Saugeon, Noam Fitoussi

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Emmanuel Soyer

EDITOR: Sylvie Gadmer

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Miguel Markin

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Curious Distribution

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 7, 2013







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