There’s inherent drama in any “switched at birth” story, but Lorraine Lévy’s The Other Son intensifies the premise by making one of the babies Jewish and one a Palestinian, and having both raised in Israel by the wrong parents, from birth to teenagerhood. Emmanuelle Devos and Pascal Elbé play a well-off Tel Aviv couple—she a French doctor, he an Israeli Army officer—who are readying their son Jules Sitruk for his military service when they notice the blood type on his forms looks wrong. A quick re-test confirms he can’t be their son; soon, a doctor discovers that Sitruk must’ve been switched with another baby at the mothers’ hospital in Haifa, during an evacuation. The Other Son then shifts perspective to the other son, Mehdi Dehbi, who was studying pre-med in Paris before returning to the West Bank to parents (played by Khalifa Natour and Areen Omari) who don’t know how to feel about this boy they raised, who could’ve been pointing a rifle at them at checkpoints.
The Other Son’s setup is too contrived, carried along by conversations that are either confrontational or artificially elusive. And the middle stretch isn’t much better, as Sitruk wanders around Tel Aviv feeling alienated from his friends, while Dehbi deals with the scorn of the militant who was his loving older brother for the previous 18 years. The emotions and the dialogue are all heightened, proceeding directly to the extremes of the situation.
But Sitruk and Dehbi are both rich characters—the former a sweet slacker who loves classic rock, the latter a hard-working guy who gets along with everyone—and as they become friends, and start exploring the lives they could’ve led, The Other Son deepens. Lévy does expose the absurdity of life in a region governed by religious disputes, as Sitruk discovers that he has to re-convert to Judaism and can no longer serve in the army, while Dehbi can now roam freely in a city with luxuries beyond what his West Bank village can provide. As maudlin as The Other Son is, the movie shows how some divisions seem arbitrary, determined only by an accident of birth.