Monday, October 22, 2012

Lorraine Levy's THE OTHER SON is an amazing, moving, vital & important film; Q&A with this talented filmmaker

So many movies these days are either hybrid documentaries that mix fact and fiction or narrative films based (sometimes very loosely) on "real-life events," that sitting in a theater and watching THE OTHER SON, the vitally important and moving (almost beyond belief) new film from Lorraine Levy (shown below) you sit spellbound, knowing that this movie must be based on fact. But I don't believe that it is. Instead it's the creation of some caring, intelligent, thoughtful artists looking to find a way into, and thus out of, one of the most intractable and seemingly insoluble situations in our world today, that of Israel in Palestine.

If you read other reviews of the film -- and I wish you would not, so that you come to this movie clean -- you'll be apprised of the central situation -- which is such a shock to all involved that it should also come as one to the audience so that we can experience things as do the characters. I'll just say that the movie involves two families, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, and what happens to rock both their worlds as they have know them for nearly 20 years.

This central idea is close to perfect in the manner in which it forces us to confront the Israel/Palestine situation. While this story could be set just about anywhere, placing it here, in this middle-east powder keg, is simply genius. It involves two mothers, two fathers, two sons and their siblings, and as it spins out, the tale takes in culture, faith, tradition and growth -- on both sides of the fence. The movie is particularly effective is showing us how the meaning of all these things can change -- in the blink of an eye. Not simply even-handed, this movie is deeply felt and beautifully performed.

Anyone (the New York reviewer for the end-of-magazine Agenda section, for instance) who judges this film "somewhat dramatically inert" must have slept through the movie. The very situation in which these two families find themselves is so fraught with drama -- each character's handling of the situation becomes a mini-drama unto itself -- that there is more dramatic tension here than in any ten movies you can name. That Levy and her estimable cast almost never allow things to go overboard is a mark of just how exceptional the movie is.

The Jewish family is portrayed by several fine actors: That stalwart of French cinema for over 25 years, Emmanuelle Devos plays mom (above, right); Pascal Elbé is dad (above, left) and Jules Sitruk (remember the French exchange student in Son of Rambow?), below, is one of the titular sons. Each is terrific, but the movie truly belongs to its moms -- as motherhood is examined in a way that few films have managed previously.

I am less familiar with the actors who play the Palestinian family, but they are every bit as good as those who play their Jewish counterparts: Areen Omari (mom, below, center, right), Khalifa Natour (dad, below at right), a simply gorgeous young man named Mehdi Dehbi (below, left) as the son, and in a pivotal role of his brother is another notable actor, Mahmud Shalaby, who was so striking earlier this year as the sexy singer in Free Men. (Shalaby is shown in the photo at bottom of this post.)

Ms Levy enables us to experience the fraught situation from all angles and from each character's perspective and in the process challenges our whole notion of identity. Her movie forces us, just as it does her characters, to rank humanity a tad higher than something so puny as the supposed will of Yaweh/Allah. Given what she tells us in the short interview below, I do wish that the filmmaker had ended her movie a bit differently. As it is, the finale is no deal-breaker, but the film did not need this little burst of melodrama that she gives it. Still, if The Other Son is not the best film  (and it's up there) so far this year, it is certainly among the most important.

The movie -- from Cohen Media Group and running 105 minutes -- opens this Friday, October 26, in New York City at Landmarks' Sunshine and Clearview's 1st and 62nd; in Queens at the Kew Gardens Cinema, in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema, and in Westchester at the Jacob Burns Film Center and Clearview's Cinema 100.  Look for it in CT, NJ and Long Island, as well.  In the Los Angeles area, it will open this Friday at various Laemmle Theaters, and will then appear in the weeks to come across country at other Landmark Theaters.


TrustMovies has not much time to spare these days, but when he sees a movie this good and this important, the chance to speak briefly with the filmmaker is too appealing to miss.  So he spoke with Lorraine Levy via phone and translator a couple of weeks back, and here's the transcript of the highlights from our conversation. Below, TM appears in boldface and Ms Levy, shown below with some of her cast members, in standard type.  (There may be some spoilers below, so why not see the movie first and read afterward?)

TrustMovies: First of all, let me say how impressed I was with your film. This idea of the film is one of the best I’ve ever seen in terms of coming at the Israel/Palestine dilemma. I thought when I first saw your movie that it must have been based on a real-life situation, but evidently it was not. It was simply thought up by you, the filmmaker…?

Lorraine Levy: No, this story is not based on any real-life situation, but it could have been. We have been able to find a lot of reports by people who were incorrectly returned to their parents during emergency evacuations during wartime. The number of testimonies available on this is growing, and there are people now who are convinced that they do have their true parents. So we decided to use this but make it more extreme: babies given over to mistaken parents: the Israeli child to Palestinians, and the reverse. I did this in order to explore what it means to be the other. To explore what is the quest for identity, and what is the path we have to take in order to overcome some prejudices.

After I saw your film, what I wanted most, and still want, is to have your movie seen all over the world, starting with the two places in which the film is located and where it means the most. Now, I am not stupid enough to imagine that it will change tons of minds, but it is bound to change some and will make some people stop and think, feel more deeply, and imagine what this might be like if the situation happened to them.

I am very touched by what you just said. This is something I really wanted to do with this film. I wanted so much that this film really touch people on that emotional level. I also want them to be able to extrapolate the situation into other areas. This is a situation that exists throughout out the world. Brothers ultimately are brothers. I have in mind the Martin Luther Kinbg “I have a dream” speech because I do believe that we are all brothers.

Because your film had its date of theatrical open delayed, and certain of us critic were not paying close enough attention, one capsule review appeared a few week ago that claimed that The Other Son, while it had an interesting premise, simply had no drama to it. This strikes me a ridiculous, because the very situation central to the film is so fraught with drama that this is really all you need, I think. Can you comment on this?

I believe you are right because this really is a paroxysm of drama. These are people who are suddenly overwhelmed. And, yes, the drama is in the situation itself. However, if what this critic was trying to say was that I did not treat the drama in a dramatic enough way, then he may have a point. I did not treat this in an overly dramatic way, I wanted to treat it in a way that offered more distance. Maybe with a little bit more reticence. In that way, I hoped to make it more real and perhaps less “dramatic.”

The casting here was particularly good. Emmanuelle Devos (above) is always wonderful, but it was Pascal Elbé (below) who did surprise me. I have seen him in action movies and comedies, but this is maybe the best role I’ve seen him tackle. I am less familiar with the actors who play the Palestinian family, but they were also fine. Did you rely on your casting director, or were these actors your idea? How did that work?

I actually used three casting directors; One in France, one in Israel, and one in Palestine. I knew very quickly, of course, for the French. I wanted Emmanuelle. I thought she really, for me, embodied what the character is. She was what I had in mind. I had already worked with Pascale Elbé, before in a comedy. I found that, as an actor, he had tremendous depth and a great deal of gravity. I wanted to give him a vehicle that would show this depth and gravity on screen. I have tremendous admiration for actors who can act "silence,” and he does this very well.

As far as the Palestinian actors, I did not know them, but through the casting director, I was able to discover some wonderful people. The actors who play the mother and father are very well-know stage actors, and it was a great thing for me to be able to work with them.

I hope this film, which I think may be the most important of the year, does well here-- and everywhere. And I want to thank you so much for making it. And I look forward to your next project.

I am very touched by what you say, because, when you are a filmmaker, you tend to be rather fragile because you have so many choices to make during the film-making process. I have learned that this film really does touch the heart of people all over the world, in Asia, South America, Scandinavia, Europe -- everywhere, so far. I think this is illustrative of the fact the film addresses questions we all share -- and must deal with.

Has the movie opened in Israel yet?

No, but it was selected for the Jerusalem Film Festival, and the screening went very well. The film was well received.

Our time is up, and so we thank Lorraine, 
and the very fine translator, for their time.

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