The switched-at-birth plotline of the "The Other Son" seems so obvious, you wonder why it's never been done before -- and of course it has, from Shakespeare to "All My Children." But placing the misplaced babies on either side of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a brilliant stroke, especially since director Lorraine Levy handles with aplomb what could easily have been a messy mix of emotions and politics. The idea may be close to fantastic -- two babies, given to the wrong families after an attack on a clinic during the first Gulf War -- but by sidestepping the obvious melodramatic pitfalls and treating her characters honestly, Levy creates a situation for her audience that's dramatically rich and devoid of easy answers.
When the 18-year-old Israeli musician Joseph (Jules Sitruk) has his blood tested in anticipation of his mandatory military service, it's discovered that he can't be the son of Orith (Emmanuelle Devos), a French-born doctor, or her husband, Alon (Pascal Elbé), an Israeli army commander. It's further discovered that the couple's biological son, Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi) was given to an Arab couple, Said (Khalifa Natour) and Leila (Areen Omari), who raised him on the West Bank.
The resulting tensions, predictably, are enormous, as is the grappling with a new reality; no one quite knows what to do or how they're supposed to feel. Yacine's brother, for instance, is militantly anti-Israel; Joseph's soldier-father harbors his own set of animosities. At the same time, a lifetime of love cannot be ignored, nor can a certain pride of blood -- Joseph's musical talent can be traced to his Arab family; Yacine's talents are similarly gene-based. But for all the nature-nurture territory Levy boldly treads across, the heart of "The Other Son" is a refutation of blind hate, something she delivers like a screaming baby.
PLOT Palestinian and Israeli families contend with the revelation that their sons were switched at birth. RATING PG-13 (violence, drug use, brief profanity)
CAST Emmanuelle Devos, Jules Sitruk, Pascal Elbé, Mehdi Dehbi
BOTTOM LINE Deftly handled situational drama that could have gone very wrong, but manages to touch both the heart and the head (In French, English, Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles)