Movies often ask us to accept impossible (or at least, highly improbable) situations in order to shift us out of our comfort zones and think about why the way things are the way they normally are. The Other Son distinguishes itself by taking on a particularly charged issue with a particularly rare scenario, and it pulls it off through a graceful sense of subtlety and emotional realism.

The movie follows two families, one Israeli, one Palestinian. They have nothing whatsoever to do with one another, until the day that the Israeli parents, Orith and Alon (Emanuelle Devos and Pascal Elbé) discover that their son Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is not biologically related to either of them. They are soon informed that the hospital in which Orith gave birth made a mistake. The infant Joseph was switched with the child of Leïla and Saïd, (Areen Omari and Khalifa Natour), a Palestinian couple, while Orith and Alon have raised that other couple’s son, Yacine, as their own. The two families then both go through separate processes of informing their respective sons of their true origins, and the subsequent identity crises that both Joseph and Yacine (Medhi Dehbi) face.

Identity is an interesting thing. A person is the sum of their experiences, nothing more or less, and yet so much of that experience is shaped by perception, and consequently by prejudice. Functionally speaking, Joseph and Yacine are still the exact same people that they were before they learned of the accident, and yet this revelation throws them into separate reevaluations of themselves. For example, Joseph wonders if he still “counts” as Jewish, while Yacine struggles to get Bilal (Mahmud Shalaby), his Israel-hating brother, to accept him. For this kind of story, director Lorraine Levy could choose no better setting than Israel and Palestine, since there is perhaps no other place on Earth where blood counts for so much in determining who and what you are.

Levy wisely avoids any histrionics in this drama, opting instead for a quiet, grounded approach. It would have been so easy to have there be a Palestinian terrorist character who tries to recruit Joseph, for instance. But the conflict between the two groups is left as a backdrop, only coming to the forefront during particularly charged moments between certain characters. There is a great acting ensemble here, as each of the people in the film must come to grips with having their assumptions so thoroughly upended.

Leïla reacts with a measured sense of acceptance. Orith is plagued with guilt over not recognizing the mistake. Alon and Saïd both become distant. Bilal cannot see his beloved brother as anything more than The Enemy. Joseph withdraws into himself. Yacine is strangely alright with the situation. What’s beautiful about this film is that all these characters have fully-realized arcs, all of which feed into one another. And in the process these two families, separated by the most extreme division possible, slowly become a strange sort of single family. And then the obvious question arises of what the point of that division is in the first place, which is what I was referring to when speaking of how movies challenge our comfort zones.

The Other Son is warm, often quite funny, sometimes emotionally distressing, and thoroughly well-done. It speaks powerfully for people to overcome cultural biases and embrace differences in a way that’s not preachy or overbearing in the least. There are some scenes of questionable pointfulness (in particular, there’s one segment near the end that feels superfluous), but they don’t harm the whole. It’s one of the best surprises that I’ve had in a theater this year.

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