When 18-year-old Joseph Silbers reports for national service with the Israeli military a blood test shows that he is not the biological son of the parents who raised him, Alon, an Israeli Army commander, and Orith, a prominent physician. Inquiries reveal that Joseph is in fact the child of Said and Leila Al-Bezaaz, Palestinians who live in the West Bank, and that the Silbers’ true son has grown up in Palestine as Yacine, the Al-Bezaaz’s son. It turns out that the two boys were accidentally switched eighteen years earlier when the hospital in which they were born was evacuated during a scud missile attack. The revelation turns the lives of the two families upside down, forcing them to reassess their identities, values, and beliefs.
I must admit that the premise of this 2012 film had me a little uneasy as I sat down to watch. The babies-switched-at-birth scenario, which is announced on the DVD case, is enough to test anyone’s willingness to suspend disbelief. And, let’s face it, since the adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper the ‘trading places’ subtext has been tried often enough by Hollywood to push it into the realms of cliché. However, my misgivings were entirely misguided. The French director, Lorraine Levy, renders an improbable plot eminently believable and with consummate skill presses it into the service of a deeply human and profoundly moving drama. This is a story of family, of heartbreak and hope. It is the story of the deeply entrenched fears and prejudices that divide and of the ‘accidental’ understanding born of tragedy that opens a way to reconciliation.