The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with all its complex implications in politics, culture, tradition, and religion, goes down smoother than a sweet cup of tea in The Other Son, thanks largely to the film’s rote conceit: Looking to join the Israeli air force, despite a love and talent for music, teenaged Joseph (Jules Sitruk) submits to a blood test that reveals he was accidentally switched at birth, the outcome of the hospital being in a warzone at the time of his birth. Joseph’s army-commander father, Alon (Pascal Elbe), has a hard time stomaching the truth, but his mother, Orith (Emmanuelle Devos), takes the time to hunt down Joseph’s actual parents, Said and Leila (Khalifa Natour and Areen Omari), who are, naturally, Palestinian and have been raising Alon and Orith’s son, Yacine (Medhi Dehbi), as their own. The parents decide to meet with their children, and from here, the filmmakers focus almost entirely on matters of displacement of cultural identity in scenes that are at once passably engaging and stunningly shortsighted.
The Other Son feels most natural when it’s not attempting to discuss the potent ideas of culture and tradition that have long been at the heart of the ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. Joseph and Yacine’s exchanges are enlivened by the distinct charm and humor of the young actors, but even these scenes of mild teenage abandon and romance are prone to aimlessness, even flippancy (the script sets up a romance for Joseph only to awkwardly and hastily dismiss it later on). And like the family drama, several other depictions of youthful carelessness never pay off in emotionally resounding ways. The bitterness that Bilal (Mahmood Shalabi) displays toward Yacine over his brother’s newly revealed Jewishness has zero context beyond the reactionary fury of an assumed radical. And a burst of violence on the beach where Joseph and Yacine sell ice cream feels shoehorned in to tepidly settle the disputes that tear the three boys apart, with an injured Joseph serendipitously bringing Bilal and Yacine back together.
For all the non-committal scripting, there’s at least one great scene in the film, wherein Joseph, while visiting Said and Leila, breaks into song at the dinner table, only to have his newfound family join in and fill out his vocal turn. Notions of cultural heritage and artistic impulse beautifully merge, and if the scene isn’t particularly original, it’s still heartfelt. Elsewhere, however, Levy can’t reconcile whether she’s making a film of politics shot through the thematic net of teenage angst or a film of adolescent rebellion complicated by confused political or cultural traditions. The Other Son suggests that a new generation may finally tend to the wounds that have caused so much torment and death between Israel and Palestine. Perhaps that’s true, but another sentimental film made by a blatant outsider doesn’t make this hope any clearer or convincing.