Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Eran Riklis
Screenplay: Sayed Kashua
Runtime: 105 minutes.
Cast: Tawfeek Barhom, Daniel Kitsis, Ali Suliman, Michael Moshonov.
Trailer: “Were you born that way?”
Plot: Talented Eyad is selected to attend the most prestigious school in Israel; a notable achievement, as he is one of Israel’s 1.4 million Arab citizens. While his adjustment is initially tough, he quickly finds a group of friends and builds a strong relationship with disabled Jonathan. Things fall apart with his requited love for Jewish student Naomi, who must keep their relationship secret. The inevitable revelation of their love, particularly to her parents, threatens to tear all apart.
Review: The Second Son is a touching and humane film with quite a lot of humour, based originally on a popular novel and competently put together by well-known Israeli director Eran Riklis. The detail that Riklis adds to this otherwise standard portrait of young love helps it stand modestly above other, similar films – delivering a gentle, insightful portrait of a family of Arab citizens living under Israeli rule and successfully conveying the community that Arab student Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) carries with him to his studies in a prestigious Israeli school. Similarly, the character’s close friendship with Jonathan (Daniel Kitsis), who suffers from a motor neurone disease, is a touch clichéd but well put together, giving weight to an otherwise standard narrative. As always with these coming-of-age stories there is the delight of the period, in this case nostalgia for the late 1980s and early 1990s, culminating in a striking portrayal of the first US-Iraqi war from a different (read Arab-Israeli) perspective.
The beats of the plot are about what you would expect; with our fish-out-of-water protagonist finding acceptance and love, but still struggling against the fleeting nature of youthful romances and friendship. The film is bookended with a shot of an older, wiser Eyad smoking on the roof of his family home – telegraphing that our young hero does eventually find his feet, and that the film will have a happy ending. The manner in which the script delivers that happy ending is surprising, heading in a direction I did not fully expect but respectably integrating it into the believability of the narrative. Discrimination against Eyad is writ everywhere, but the film wears it lightly and is at pains to demonstrate the common ground the characters share. Some allowance has to be made for the fact that this is a feel-good drama – for example, the secret lovers intimately meeting on the empty auditorium stage; amateur mistake kids, hate to see it – but ultimately its charms are winning.
One of the most striking elements I took away from the film is their sympathetic portrayal of an Arab family during a series of Arab-Israeli conflicts. The film opens in 1982 with the Israeli-Lebanon conflict, and some amusing wise-cracks from Eyad’s grandmother, hoping the Israeli planes overhead never come back. ‘God protect you, Arafat’ she mumbles as they watch the bombing on television. Similarly, the escalating conflict with Iraq is played amusingly and interestingly – mocking Israeli chemical weapons drills, and producing a highly entertaining, family-narrated showdown between an Iraqi scud missile and a Patriot missile battery. The family supports Saddam Hussein against the US, even though they think he is an ass and would otherwise express hatred, showing their support for other Arabs as if they were football teams (support of which can prove to be equally as passionate). The portrayal of their plight as citizens of Israel, but brothers to other Arabs, is sensitive and moving.
Ultimately, The Second Son is a touching film that is worth seeing. Its message of tolerance and compromise probably won’t solve theMiddle East peace crisis; but these films still form a gentle reminder that common ground is everywhere, even if a positive political reality currently isn’t.
Rating: Three stars.