We are just half-way through this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, and I have been trying to see as many films, and attend as many press conferences as I can, which unfortunately is not nearly as many as I would like. It is a somewhat odd experience to see a film in a theater and then be sitting in front of the actors and filmmakers at a press conference 10 minutes later. But that is what happened to me today when I saw The Other Son.
The title refers to the realization of two young men that they were switched at birth and raised by wrong families. As if this were not difficult enough, one is Jewish and living in Tel Aviv, and the other is Palestinian and living on the West Bank following studies in Paris and they switched when the hospital where they were born in Haifa was bombed during the Gulf War. It is a wildly improbably story conceit, but one that doesn’t stand out, as the direction and performances are excellent, making for a moving tale rather than film with an obvious message to beat the audience over the head with.
Despite the setting and many scenes taking place at the tension-filled checkpoints between the two families homes, the film is not so much about politics as it is about emotions. The two young men, who have liberal outlooks from folk music and studying in Paris, are relatively quick to accept the earth-shaking news, although Joseph wonders if he is still Jewish even if he has been circumcised and Bar Mitzvahed. No, says his Rabbi. The mothers react emotionally, feeling new closeness with their biological sons and and renewed love for the boys they raised. The young sisters innocently welcome their new brothers and the fathers predictably react with anger, as does the older brother in the Palestinian family, who resents the occupying Isrealis. But everyone comes together in the end in a way that avoids too much sentimentality.
Although filmed in Isreal, this is essentially a French film, with the director, writers and lead actor hailing from France. This is reflected in the story which makes the mother of Isreali son French and the Palestinian son a student just returning from Paris. Even the Palestinian mother speaks a bit of French. The Francophone slant distracts a bit from the story, making it one of the few flaws in the film. Jules Sitruk, who plays the son raised as Jewish and who attended the press conference in Tokyo this afternoon, is a real talent and looks a bit like a young Adrian Brody. I am sure he has a great career ahead of him.