Son of the other

French filmmakers tackle the conflict via a pair of prodigal sons accidentally switched at birth.

Film families 370 (photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Film families 370
(photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Although Lorraine Levy’s latest film, The Other Son (Le Fils de l’Autre), deals with a very specific situation – an Israeli teen and a Palestinian teen whose families discover they were switched at birth – the film has had a wide appeal for audiences around the world.“It touches universal themes of otherness, of the relationship to the other,” says the soft-spoken director, who was interviewed at the recent French Film Festival.
The boys and their families make this troubling discovery when the Israeli boy, Joseph (Jules Sitruk), is about to be drafted into the army.
His doctor discovers, in a routine medical check, that his blood type does not match his parents. This leads to some checking that reveals that the two boys, who were born during the First Gulf War, were switched at birth when the hospital had to be evacuated suddenly as missiles fell.
The discovery that the parents who have raised you are not biologically related to you would be troubling enough in any case, but when each learns he is on a different side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s even more confusing.
“It’s very interesting,” she says. “This is just the moment when you are starting to figure out who you will be, when you think all your life is assembled. And then you have to build everything you think you are again. It’s like a new virginity.... Each family reconsiders their values, their children, everything.”
Levy, whose first feature film, The First Time I Turned Twenty, dealt with a French Jewish teenager undergoing a very different kind of turmoil, collaborated on the screenplay for The Other Son with Noam Fitoussi, who came to her with the original idea. “It was a very passionate story,” she says.
Nathalie Saugeon also collaborated on the screenplay.
The film was shot in Israel with some crew members from France but also Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians from the West Bank. Many of them gave her notes on the script.
“All of their input was very important,” says the director, who is based in Paris. “They brought up very precise points.” One example she gives is that when Yassin (Mehdi Dehbi), the boy raised as a Palestinian, came home to his parents’ home in the West Bank after studying abroad, the screenplay had the parents meeting him at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
“Some of the Palestinians told me that the parents wouldn’t have been allowed to go to the airport. So we changed it.... It was very important, the small details, they were not just technical details.”
The experience of making the film changed some aspects of Levy’s outlook about the future of the Middle East, in ways that parallel the journey the characters undergo.
“The experience of working with this mixed crew was very inspiring. There was real fraternity there. Everyone was serving the same cause, making the film, working together.”
She had good experiences with the locals where they filmed as well.
“Israelis helped when we were in Israeli areas, Palestinians helped in Palestinian places.”
There were times during the shooting when real-life events threatened to intrude on the film-making process.
“We were casting for the Palestinian mother in February 2011, when a bomb exploded in Jerusalem,” she recalls. “The checkpoints were closed and Palestinian actors from the territories couldn’t get there.”
But Areen Omari, who won the part of Leila, Yassin’s mother, was undeterred.
“She came by foot... She wanted the part so much.”
Often, it was difficult for the actress, who lives in Ramallah, to make it to the set, but Omari persevered throughout filming.
“It was reality and fiction touching together,” notes Levy.
The Other Son has been shown in many countries, including France, the US, Sweden and Italy. It was especially well received in Japan, where it won the Grand Prix at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2012, and Levy also won the Best Director Award there.
“People were very moved by it, very emotional,” she says.
It’s not the first time Levy has received positive feedback for her films in Asia. When she took The First Time I Turned Twenty, a coming of age drama set in Sixties France, which features some Holocaust references, to a film festival in Beijing a few years ago, “a small guy, old, got up and said, ‘I understand that the Jews have had some problems in the past, but is it better?’” For a moment, the sweeping question left Levy speechless, but she managed to say, “It got better but it will never be perfect.”
Levy is currently working on her next film, the story of an older hero who is the product of a mixed marriage, in which she will continue to examine the theme of life’s imperfections.