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Israeli and Palestinian babies get swapped in The Other Son
My child, my enemy
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Two young men must revise their cultural identities.
Two young men must revise their cultural identities.

Two babies are switched at birth. One is born Palestinian but raised by an Israeli family; the other is in the reverse situation. Given the hackneyed premise of this film by French writer-director Lorraine Levy, many things could have gone wrong. But The Other Son is a triumph: It's a convincing drama rather than a comedy, a compelling story about family rather than a heavy-handed political allegory.

When Joseph (Jules Sitruk) applies to do his mandatory stint in the Israeli army, he discovers that his blood type is incompatible with that of his parents. It turns out that his mother gave birth during the Gulf War, when a Scud missile attack seemed imminent. Soon after birth, he was taken to a shelter. There, another boy was born. The babies were then returned to the wrong moms.

Discovering the truth is devastating, especially to the sons, Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi) and Joseph. It's also painful for their families, especially the fathers (Pascal Elbé and Khalifa Natour), although both mothers (Emmanuelle Devos and Areen Omari) open their hearts and expand their love. Each woman accepts the new child she knew nothing about without rejecting the child she raised.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes it particularly difficult to deal with the consequences of the accident. This tension appears in sophisticated metaphors throughout the film. The stark differences between the lives of the Palestinians, who are mired in oppression and poverty, and the Israelis, who are much freer and better off, are indicated without undue hysterics. The languages spoken in the film include Arabic and Hebrew, with people from different backgrounds often communicating in English or French.

Disparities are emphasized in very human terms. A rabbi tells Joseph, whose identity is bound up in being Jewish, that he will need to convert to the faith since he was born to a non-Jewish mother. Yacine's beloved brother turns on him because he is a Jew.

Very slowly, Yacine and Joseph begin to adapt to their new worlds without rejecting their old ones. Just as gradually, their fathers come around, and the families expand instead of swapping children. There is a great scene in which Joseph's sister reveals that she has explained the situation to her girlfriends, whose only reaction is that brothers are yucky regardless.

The actors are all excellent, the storytelling is compassionate, and the feelings The Other Son generates are more tender than political.

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