Can’t We All Just Get Along? by David Bax
It seems that melodrama – the word – has come to have a solely negative connotation. In reality, though, melodrama is no more than a tool. The trick is in how it’s used. When it’s a means to an end – when the external drama is employed to reveal things about the characters via their reactions – it can be quite a fruitful implement. When it is unimaginatively and manipulatively deployed as an end to itself, the results can be dreadful. Lorraine Levy’s The Other Son belongs, sadly, to the latter camp. For the time being, the good name of melodrama remains besmirched.
Things kick off when a Tel Aviv-dwelling Israeli boy has a blood test done in preparation for military service and discovers that he is not his parents’ biological son. This is news to the parents as well. Some research at the hospital reveals that the building had been quickly evacuated during a bombing raid seventeen years or so earlier and the babies were put back in the wrong order. The Israeli couple (the Silbergs) find that their true son has been raised by Palestinian parents (the Al Bezaazes). The families meet and, from there, tensions and friendships develop in equal measure.
Frustratingly, though, it’s only the friendships that Levy (along with co-screenwriter Nathalie Saugeon, both of them working from an idea by Noam Fitoussi) is interested in exploring. Time and again, problems are paved over with platitudes and cheap, flat moments of revelation. After the harsh truths of the recent documentary Tears of Gaza, there’s a disconcertingly toothless vibe to Levy’s repeated deflation of animosity between the Israeli and Palestinian characters. And the implication that the militants of Palestine can be converted by the opiate of consumerism is both disrespectful and surprisingly cynical for a film this sunny. However, it does pair well with Levy’s undercurrent of bourgeois favoritism. When the son raised in Palestine returns from France, his middle-class Euro affectations are gently mocked but it’s clear that he has elevated himself to a higher plane.
If the experience of viewing The Other Son sounds intolerable, it should be noted that roundly outstanding performances by the cast help things go down more easily. Most worth singling out are the women who play the two mothers, Emmanuelle Devos and Areen Omari. Their dominating but recognizably human pathos do more than anything else to keep the proceedings grounded. Unfortunately, their efforts are not nearly enough to cover the film’s deficit.