Past Life review

If the truth can set you free can it also save a family? That’s the question raised in Past Life, a decent drama about two women seeking the truth about their father’s Holocaust experience.

Sephi (Joy Rieger) is a promising classical music student, but a bizarre encounter at a concert leaves her shaken. Rattled, but curious enough to gain further insight on serious allegations against her father, Sephi tells her free-spirited sister Nana (Nelly Tagar). As an aspiring journalist wasting her talents writing for scandal sheets, Nana smells a potential conspiracy and a big story.

Maybe their harsh and occasionally cruel father, Baruch Milch (Doron Tavory), did commit some atrocities now in need of reparation? As Sephi and Nana dig deeper they learn more about their father than they bargained. And those secrets could unravel their family for good.

Past Life review - Sephi

Director/Screenwriter Avi Nesher adapts Milch’s ‘Can Heaven Be Void?’ in mostly satisfying fashion. Nesher builds Past Life like a mystery thriller with some major payoff or shocking twist. In that regard the film doesn’t quite deliver what Nesher initially promises.

The introduction of a too kind to be true German composer Thomas Zielinski (Rafael Stachowiak) seems a little too coincidental. And what’s the deal with their mother’s (Evgenia Dodina) constant nosebleeds? It always seems like some big revelation is right around the corner — fostered in part by Nesher’s occasionally frustrating scene switches.

That largely has to do with Tavory being so commanding as Baruch shares his Holocaust experience. And the slow roll out of the story as Baruch has to recall from memory his journals. The other subplots are solid in their own right, but it’s hard not to just want to get back to Baruch share his fascinating story of surviving that terrible atrocity.

Past Life review - Sephi and Baruch

Sephi has an involved arc what with dealing with Nana’s constant jealousy, her desires to be a composer in a male-dominated profession and her potential attraction to Thomas. Rieger gives a thoughtful performance as the young girl learning to find her voice and become a woman. It’s through Sephi’s arc that the score really comes to the forefront with a series of strong numbers.

Tagar gives the film its most dynamic presence with Nana’s quick wit and harsh attitude. And Tavory is captivating. He gives Baruch this welcome air of uncertainty making you question if he’s telling the full story.

For the dramatic buildup and increasing tension, Past Life peaks too early. The film’s big mystery is resolved with a half-hour left in the film. All that’s left at that point is the healing process, which to some extent never really feels that necessary besides Nana and Sephi.

Past Life is a compelling character drama that doesn’t need the gimmicks and tricks of a thriller to keep the audience invested.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Photo Credit: Film Production Pandora Limited Partnership