CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
Blu-ray Review: Lorraine Levy’s ‘The Other Son’ Transcends Cultural Boundaries
CHICAGO – Remember that episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” where Rob and Laura Petrie become convinced that the baby they took home from the hospital is not their own? Imagine if they were right and that 18 years had passed before they came to this crushing realization. And imagine if the birth parents weren’t a kindly black couple, and instead the Petrie’s sworn enemies?
That’s what occurs, more or less, in Lorraine Levy’s deeply moving French drama, “The Other Son,” in which two sets of parents—one Israeli, the other Palestinian—learn that they’ve been mistakenly raising each others’ child. Instead of devolving into a knee-jerk melodrama where speechifying compensates for character depth, Levy’s film unfolds into a warmly humanistic, richly empathetic portrait of families learning to transcend the boundaries of their culture. Since Levy is neither Israeli nor Palestinian, she’s able to bring a clear-eyed, nonjudgmental perspective to the subject matter that resists stereotypes and caricatures at every turn.
Blu-ray Rating: 5.0/5.0
Though Joseph (Jules Sitruk) and Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi) have lived the entirety of their lives following the traditions and rituals of their respective cultures, their genetics suddenly categorize them as outsiders. Joseph is outraged by his rabbi’s matter-of-fact belief that his parents’ biological son is more Jewish than he is. Yacine is similarly disturbed—though unsurprised—when his hostile brother, Bilal (Mahmud Shalaby), treats him like a stranger after the truth is revealed. Finding themselves uneasily wedged in the same boat, Joseph and Yacine become fast friends, and their scenes together are lovely to behold. Sitruk beautifully captures Joseph’s boyish sensitivity and bewilderment, while Dehbi nails Yacine’s maturity and self-assurance without turning him into a one-note saint. The script written by Levy and Nathalie Saugeon is acutely perceptive in its portrayal of two 18-year-old boys at opposite ends of the developmental scale. They’re at that tender age when some people still remain wayward children while others have already actualized into adults. Yet Sitruk and Dehbi skillfully subvert the audience’s assumptions about their characters as they come to terms with their long-concealed heritage. These are two wonderful performances from a pair of hugely promising actors.
The Other Son was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 19th, 2013.
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group
As the mothers (Emmanuelle Devos and Areen Omari) urge their husbands (Pascal Elbé and Khalifa Natour) to make peace with one another, Levy pays tribute to the intuitive sense of shared understanding that all human beings possess, if only they wouldn’t ignore it. With the stellar Oscar-nominated documentaries “Five Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers” universalizing the plight of both Palestinians and Israelis, “The Other Son” is a poignant call to peace so simple and pure that it just might floor you. It’s not the story of two groups or entities, but of one collective human family that must remain united or face certain collapse.
“The Other Son” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.77:1 aspect ratio) and includes a solid array of extras, including nine minutes of deleted scenes smartly arranged in accordance with their underlying themes. Many of the axed vignettes provide additional screen time for the radiant Devos, though I was most interested in the nightclub sequence (where Yacine hangs with Joseph’s friends) that somehow got left on the cutting room floor. In a half-hour making-of documentary, Levy reveals her initial reluctance in tackling the potentially volatile subject matter, and emphasizes how this directorial task required humility. Though one night shoot was interrupted by some young, wall-climbing Palestinians, the featurette builds a convincing case that the set was relatively tension-free. That’s especially apparent during the disc’s blooper reel, a most unusual extra to have accompanying a dramatic feature, but in light of the film’s ultimately joyous spirit, it makes perfect sense.