If you aren’t familiar with the many complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hey, good on you. Me, not so lucky having family and friends in the region, including Israel proper, Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza. I make a point of not discussing it with them because opinions from people living in the region, like recipes for hummus, vary widely and each person is certain their version is the only correct version. Propaganda ensues and time is wasted on both sides.
Still, its an interesting phenomenon – identity and how it can shape every aspect of your life. But what shapes that identity and can it be changed?
This film, The Other Son, does a tremendous job of putting identity under the microscope by a very simple plot mechanism. Two young men, one raised Muslim living in the West Bank, the other raised Jewish living in Tel Aviv had been inadvertently switched after birth while the hospital was in chaos during a Scud missile attack. Some 20 years later, through some routine day-to-day activities the truth is slowly and sometimes painfully revealed. Despite how lame this vehicle sounds, it is well-architected and cleverly delivered. What is more interesting, after the news hits, is how everyone reacts. The Israeli and Palestinian parents meet to discuss what to do – should we tell our kids or not – its an amicable sit down but very strained. Later the sons learn the truth through various conversations and everyone agrees to one big Israeli-Palestinian get together. Afterwards the two sons become friends but the friendship itself reveals prejudices from the rest of the family.
The writing and direction here are good, the story leading you down a path you think will be cliche only to have the plot take a unexpected twist.
The best scene for me was the Jewish Son, after having a fight with his dad, traveling solo to the West bank to spend time with his new-found Palestinian family. The long, desolate walk from the checkpoint to the village is tense. When he arrives, he is met with both acceptance and rejection from his Palestinian family. While expected, through nothing more than facial expressions you can see his own self-acceptance and rejection parallel his family’s. At an already strained dinner in the West Bank, the Jewish Son stands up and starts belting out an Arabic song. No one knows how to react, so its silence and condescending glares. But he keeps on. Louder and more soulful. Again, without words, you see the Palestinians reactions change – ‘Crap, hes come to the West Bank to visit us, hes come by himself, he’s learned an Arabic song. He’s trying to get to know us and we’re being completely childish’.
The film ends on an ambiguously uplifting note and some acceptance of difference. ‘Family’ takes on a new definition for the lot. Identity, as they all learn, is a simply matter of choice, however those choices are heavily influenced by those they hold closest.
‘Ze Ma Yesh’ as the Israelis would say.