Avi and I talked about his brilliant and beautiful new film Past Life, and letting go, about justice, pessimism and why he believes we need to “let life take over.”
In the fascinating new film from director Avi Nesher (The Wonders), two Israeli sisters delve into the dark mystery of their father’s former life in Poland during World War II.
The newest film by Avi Nesher boldly charts dangerous emotional territory as it tells of two sisters trying to uncover their family’s past.
It is 1977, and talented but introspective singer Sephi Milch (Joy Rieger) is singing with her choir in a Berlin concert hall. At the reception afterwards, Sephi is shocked when an older woman, upon hearing Sephi’s name, hisses “murderer.” The woman is immediately hustled away by her son, but the incident haunts Sephi, and when she returns home to Tel Aviv, she shares the story with her older sister, Nana (Nelly Tagar). A fiery tabloid journalist with a political bent, Nana immediately wants to investigate.
Sephi relates the incident to her parents, too — and it causes an uproar, with her authoritarian father finally confessing that he had another name and life in Poland during the Second World War. But Nana is unwilling to accept their father’s tale of survival and loss at face value. The search for the truth of their family’s past raises almost-unbearable questions for the sisters: is our father who he says he is? If he’s not, who is the man who raised us? And will we bear the spiritual weight of his troubled past?
The story is fascinating right up to its last revelations, and the performances keep us engaged from the first frame. A familial detective story about family, secrets, and identity, Past Life will occupy thoughts and conversations long after the credits roll.
Avi Nesher studied international relations at Columbia University. His films include The Troupe (1979), She (1982), Timebomb (1991), Turn Left at the End of the World (2004), The Secrets (07), The Matchmaker (2010), and The Wonders (2013), the latter three of which screened at TIFF.