Film about being switched at birth has political ramifications, writes Peter Calder
Veteran producer Raphael Berdugo has been involved in a diverse crop of modest arthouse hits: the sublime A Heart in Winter; Respiro; The Sicilian Girl; and the memorable Caramel, which took place in a Beirut beauty salon.
His latest, The Other Son, directed by Lorraine Levy, is set in Israel and takes one of literature's oldest tropes - the switching of two babies at birth - and gives it an added cross-cultural inflection: the babies are Jewish and Palestinian. The film explores the impact of this revelation on the two families, and its characters react in surprising, though utterly plausible, ways.
Looking through Berdugo's list of credits, one is struck by a consistent element of curiosity about other cultures. A Heart in Winter, though set in Paris where he lives and works, takes place in the hermetically sealed world of classical instrument making and repair; Respiro is set on Lampedusa, an Italian island that is closer to Africa than Sicily; The Sicilian Girl was a based-on-fact drama about a Mafia girl who turned state's evidence.
Berdugo, on the phone to TimeOut from Paris, says cultural difference has always fascinated him. "Movies are the perfect vehicle to know other cultures and being aware of other cultures is the way to create peace between people... Movies enable you to travel the world and find common emotions that are the international language."
Why is film any better than, say, music or novels or theatre or any other art form?
All of them can be good vehicles. But watching a movie is easier than reading a book. Also a movie can transport you to the place. But you have to have a situation that you can understand, wherever you are.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
It was from a guy called Noam Fitoussi, who is not involved in the movie business. He's a DJ who makes music at bar mitzvahs in France. The idea of the switching of two babies at birth is not especially original but making it between Israeli and Palestinian families, that was the interesting part, because it adds another level of emotion.
It adds a political element, yet the film is almost anti-political.
You can say that. Everything is political, of course, but the film is essentially a humanistic movie. It doesn't express any opinion about who is wrong and who is right. It just puts in front of us a situation that may happen. So suddenly we understand that these two families have to reassess their vision of the other.
What inspired Lorraine Levy is a very famous Israeli writer called Amos Oz, who is one of the founders of the political movement Peace Now, which basically says you cannot make peace with someone you don't know. You have to know the other and recognise the other. In this film, the switch of babies forces the two families to reconsider each other.
It was important that the families not be extremes. The Jewish family is not very religious; the Palestinian family is not very poor or fanatical. They are moderate, so they are prepared to accept.
It was interesting how differently the men and the women reacted to the discovery.
I would say that for women, it's a new son, it's another son. For the men, they feel like they are losing a son; the women are gaining one. In Middle Eastern culture, the son is very important because he is the transmission of name, culture, values. For the women of course, they cannot be indifferent to the son that they had in their bellies. There is a powerful biological connection.
The film settles on an ending that is not exactly ambiguous but is open. We leave the cinema wondering what will happen next. You've had interest from US production companies who want to make television series following what happens next. It seems to me that would betray the special mystery that the film leaves us with.
I totally agree with you. But it would not be with an Israeli and a Palestinian. This kind of story could be told about India and Pakistan or in any other parts of the world where you have conflict between two peoples and you have to reconsider. But you need to have the room to think about it.
We have finally found a distributor in Israel, which was not that easy. It has shown in a festival in Israel but a distributor said it would not work. But after some screenings the reaction has been very positive, because the audiences recognised that it was not a political movie, but a humanist movie.
What: The Other Son, a drama centred on the story of two babies switched at birth, starring French actor Jules Sitruk as Joseph Silberg
Who: Producer Raphael Berdugo
Opens: In cinemas Thursday