It is 1991. The United States (led by George H. W. Bush) declares war on Iraq (led by Saddam Hussein). Jets, tanks, and foot soldiers cross the line—the sand—and attack a country that's just coming out of a brutal decade-long war with Iran. In response, Iraq launches Scud missiles at Israel. Some of these missiles hit the city of Haifa. One explodes near a hospital, in which an Israeli woman and a Palestinian woman have just given birth to boys. The boys are evacuated from the exposed hospital. When the bombing ends, the boys are returned to their mothers. But a mix-up happens: The Israeli woman receives the Palestinian baby (Joseph), and the Palestinian mother receives the Israeli (Yacine). This mix-up is revealed 18 years later when Joseph (Jules Sitruk) receives a physical for national service—he is not the child of his parents; he is not Jewish, he is Palestinian.
Joseph's life is thrown off the tracks, along with the life of Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi). Just as they are about to complete their childhoods and become adults, a rupture occurs between their biology and their culturally shaped identities. Their families are also in a state of confusion. Who should the parents love? Should they stop caring for someone they've raised for nearly two decades and now care for someone they've never loved at all?
The most important scene in the movie involves Joseph being told by his rabbi that he is not Jewish anymore. He doesn't have the genes—he only has the culture. Yacine, however, is Jewish, but has none of the culture. And here we see the utter insanity of gene determinism. Genes do not matter as much as experience, relationships, language, and the structure of feeling. The Other Son has its problems (the Jewish family is better represented than the Palestinian one), but its strong concept and great actors overcome these stumbles. Opens at the Egyptian on Friday, October 26.