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The Other Son - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Other Son
Directing: A
Acting: A
Writing: A
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A

I can't think of anything wrong with The Other Son. This is just a good, solid movie with a great, thought-provoking and entertaining, very original story. The original part is no small feat. Such movies are hard to come by.

I mean, the concept of mixed identities and being switched at birth are hardly new. But this is a new context: eighteen years ago, during a raid in the middle of the Gulf War, two babies were switched by accident in the process of evacuation. Now, just as the two sons are about to come of age, they discover they don't actually share the genetics of the parents they grew up with. One is Israeli and one is Palestinian. But now, in a way, both of them are both.

It's easy to wonder how all this might have played out had the mistake been discovered when the boys were much younger. No doubt, there would have been a lot more tension and question of switching the boys back to their birth parents. I think the story as written is more interesting. It's also more plausible: it's not until Joseph (Jules Sitruk) has a blood test as he prepares for obligatory military service that he discovers he has a different blood type than either of his parents. This is how the story opens.

It takes some re-testing, and of course the inevitable suspicion of infidelity, before the hospital where the boys were born have to call in both sets of parents to explain what happened and how. This, like many in the movie, is a great scene, each individual having all manner of emotion crossing their faces at their own rate of interval.

It seems difficult to imagine how any sets of parents -- or sets of children -- could deal with such a scenario, let alone ones in Israel from opposing ethnic backgrounds. Inevitably, Joseph meets the brother he would have been, Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi). Joseph and Yacine are afflicted with questions of identity, but are far more successful at navigating their emotions than their unwittingly adoptive families. Yacine's brother Bilal in particular is instantly resentful as soon as he perceives his brother to have originated in enemy territory.

Curiously, Bilal is the only one who really harbors any overtly political/racial hatred. The parents, understandably, are just confused, and struggling to come to terms with what they've discovered about their families.

It's unfortunate for them, but fortunate for this movie, that it all results in some very unique blending of identity in both families. The Other Son doesn't seem to be trying to make a statement per se, but it does tell a story that underlines the futility of the kind of forced separation going on in the region. Whether they like it or not, these people are all in it together.

Joseph and Yacine, who would be strangers had this mix-up never happened, become friends. And how could they not? No one else but them has this same kind of experience. It's a joy to watch their relationship develop, and to see how they each relate to Bilal, and to see how all their parents react to everything.

It's also sad, of course. There's one particularly poignant scene where Joseph, a natural musician, has come to Yacine's home and is having dinner with his birth family. The only way he knows how to cut through the awkwardness is to start singing. Suddenly the whole family joins in, and all the complications melt away in favor of something pure and beautiful. It sounds corny but the scene is beautifully executed.

The Other Son never resorts to formula. In the hands of anyone from Hollywood, there would be some Major Incident that serves as a road block to all these people bonding, and then reconciliation. But this entire movie, really, is about reconciliation. Some bad things happen, but nothing ridiculous or unrealistic. Still, you never have any idea how things are going to turn out.

This movie could have gone all manner of regrettable directions, from strained tearjerker to preachy politics. It's much more subtle than all that, and in the end is rather uplifting. It's always nice to see such a story told from one of the most contentious areas of the world, especially when done right.

Mehdi Dehbi and Jules Sitruk are both THE OTHER SON.

Overall: A
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