PAST LIFE (2017)


 Greetings again from the darkness. Renowned Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher tackles the familiar topic of Holocaust survivors and drops in a related family mystery, two dueling and personality-opposite sisters, plus numerous sub-plots including: arguing spouses, musical sexism (it’s a thing), cancer, and a cross-country investigation. The film was inspired by the autobiography of Dr. Baruch Milch, who is the father of the rival sisters and whose past actions are at the core of the investigation.

It’s 1977 West Berlin, and after successfully performing a solo during a concert, no singer wants to be grabbed by a crazy-eyed old lady and accused of being the daughter of a murderer … an act exacerbated by the fact that the accusation is in a language she doesn’t understand. This is exactly what happens to young Sephi Milch (played well by Joy Rieger, who reminds of a late 1970’s Amy Irving). It’s an unsettling moment for Sephi and when she mentions it to her dissident older sister Nana (Nelly Tagar), who also happens to be a journalist/editor, the girls unite for an investigation that will take them deep into the mysterious past of their father.

The sisters of conflict are never really on the same page, as Nana is relentless in pursuit of the truth while the more reserved Sephi can’t see the benefit to uncovering something that could tear the family apart. Also, Sephi is focused on her dream of becoming the first respected female classical composer in history. In an odd twist of fate, it’s the son of the accusing crazy lady who is instrumental (apologies for the pun) in helping Sephi purse her goal. Thomas Zielinski (played by Rafael Stachowiak) is a well known conductor who is either a creepy guy (with an even creepier mother) with amorous intentions toward Sephi or a generous guy in a position to help the rising star.

The story could have been interesting enough with this foundation, but it becomes cluttered with side stories that actually bog down and divert our attention from what we care about. Doron Tavory plays Dr. Baruch Milch, and though his being a lousy father doesn’t make him a murderer, it certainly allows for doubt in both the girls and the audience. Often, the film feels like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces … or worse, including pieces from a different puzzle.

Taking place at a time when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was working towards a peaceful accord with Israel, the film also acts as a reminder that war pushes people into actions that might be out of character, yet necessary in the moment. Should these digressions be forgiven or become one’s lingering shadowy legacy? The clashes with past and present, historical and modern, confuse these issues and divert our attention away from two sisters trying to understand the impact of their father’s actions during WWII on their family today. The rest is just noise … disguised as beautiful music.

watch the trailer:

 

 

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