Joseph Silberg is an Israeli teenager in the process of a pro forma pre-induction physical exam for the IDF (Israel Defense Force.) One step in the process is an everyday blood draw and analysis. At this point the “routine” examination morphs into an unexpected and defining new reality. Joseph has a blood type that is not possible given the blood types of his father Alon and mother Orith. The result: Multiple layers of conflict and consternation.
Not unexpectedly, Alon (a high ranking IDF officer) obsesses over the prospect of another man being the father of his son Joseph. Orith assures Alon that she has never been unfaithful. The question looms large — how is this genetic incongruity explainable. The explanation takes two families, one Arab and one Israeli, back to the Gulf War of 1991. Orith was waiting to deliver her first child in a hospital in Haifa Israel. Leila Al Bazaaz, a West Bank Arab, was visiting relatives in Haifa, went into early labor and delivered her son at the same time and place as Orith. These births coincided Iraq’s SCUD missile attack on Haifa. In the confusion of the moment the two babies were sent home with the wrong mother. End of story? Absolutely not!
This knotty and unforgettable story is told in the 2012 French film “The Other Son” (Le fils de l’autre) directed by Lorraine Levy. This is no ordinary switched-baby yarn. “The Other Son” examines several vital levels of human conduct and prejudice. The first level is male vs. female response to emotional and situational uncertainty.
Once the mix-up is explained, and the possible marital misconduct question eliminated, the families affected must cope with and an extraordinarily emotional reordering of their lives. The men — Alon and Said — initially resort to adamant and heated denial. The women — Orith and Leila — on the other hand adjust their inclination to deny and begin the process finding a reasonable way to deal with the reality on the ground. They independently shift into an effective coping strategy — they deal with the situation at hand.
Ancestral (Israeli vs. Arab) and religious (Muslim vs. Jewish) stresses underlying the Middle-East “situation” further complicate the condition. The Al Bezaaz family is Arab and Muslim while the Silberg family is Israeli and Jewish. The miss-assigned sons — Yacine and Joseph — are devoted to their respective families and their religious and cultural beliefs and traditions. While initially mistrustful of one-another, these fine young men find a way to constructively re-focus on the positive rather than obsess about the negative. Traditional mistrust yields to interpersonal respect, and ultimately affection. Each learns a great deal about himself while learning about the other.
Similarly, the cultural and religious mistrust between the dads slowly yields to reason and understanding. Each has been imprinted negatively as a result of decades of conflict, propaganda and confrontation. While the Silbergs have prospered, the Al Bezaaz family has languished economically. Said is a trained engineer who has been restricted by the circumstances of the Israeli Palestinian conflict to work as a auto mechanic. While both families share strikingly similar family values and practices, the Silbergs live in modern and flourishing environs while the Al Bezaaz family lives in dramatically less appealing circumstances. Each knows little about the other as the political and security states of affairs keep them separated while ironically living in close physical proximity to one another.
Director Levy has done a laudable job in using this striking inter-family foul-up as a platform to draw attention to a number of the primeval issues underlying the Middle-East conflict. Said and Alon appear to represent the “time-honored” status-quo deadlock mentality of the adversaries while Yacine and Joseph symbolize the possible course of peoples living peacefully with each other without regard to cultural and religious differences.
“The Other Son” is difficult to sum up in a brief review. It is a lovely portrayal of two worthy families caught in a unique, yet instructive, dilemma. The film is available through Netflix on DVD as well as Xfinity on Demand and well worth the time to acquire, view and consider.
Cast: Joseph Silberg (Jules Sitruk), Alon Silberg (Pascal Elbe), Orith Silberg (Emmanuelle Devos), Leila Al Bazaaz (Areen Omari), Said Al Bazaaz (Khalifa Natour) and Yacine Al Bazaaz (Mehdi Dehbi).