Dramas about Palestinian-Israeli relations have been a cottage industry for the last decade, with a new generation of filmmakers attempting to build bridges while acknowledging the many, seemingly intractable differences. Invariably, these end with a suicide bombing (Paradise Now, The Bubble) or some other form of massacre (the demolished plants at the end of The Lemon Tree). Whether these are borne of a mere need for dramatic fireworks or a paranoid belief that the two sides can’t rub shoulders without one side going apocalyptic is unclear. But because of this trend, the comparatively sober The Other Son looks more innovative than it is.
The premise is hot potato-ish: While signing up for his mandatory stint in the Israeli Army, 18-year-old Joseph (Jules Sitruk) discovers that his blood type does not match that of his parents. Snooping reveals that he was in fact switched at birth with Yacine (Medhi Dehbi), who accidentally grew up in the occupied West Bank as an Arab. Predictably, this does not go down well with the fathers: Alon (Pascal Elbé) is a commander in the Israeli Army, while the blood of Saïd (Khalifa Natour), as well as his other son Bilal (Mahmud Shalaby), runs hot with hatred for his oppressors. The women (Emmanuelle Devos and Areen Omari) are reliably maternal and soothing, but Joseph, realizing he has more national pride than he imagined, still segues into a self-destructive streak.
There are a couple points when this powder keg clusterfuck looks prone to going off, but while The Other Son trods upon landmines, nothing ever goes off. This is simply a film about people working things out, and it’s nice to have a movie about Israel/Palestine that doesn’t assume that Palestinians will always blow something up or that Israelis will always enforce their law through casual brutality. Ironically, that makes it less vital as drama, as all that’s left for the viewers is to wait for the menfolk to simmer down while admiring the subtlety of director Lorraine Levy and cowriter Noam Fitoussi’s script, as well as the excellence of the acting, including a predictably spot-on turn from Emmanuelle Devos. Any way you cut it, The Other Son has no explosions.