Friday, June 16, 2017

Avi Nesher's PAST LIFE offers up a load of melodramatic, post-Holocaust schlock

The original story, said to be a true one, upon which the movie PAST LIFE is based, may indeed be truthful. But the manner in which writer/director Avi Nesher (below) has cobbled together his third-rate filmed version hits every possible melodramatic note so hard and so often that he turns this tale of post-Holocaust trauma into mostly schlock.

By the end of this sour and silly movie, I was left with a feeling I have rarely encountered: This would have been one Holocaust story better left untold.

TrustMovies was a fan of Mr. Nesher's earlier film, The Matchmaker, and he hopes to be of others down the road. But this current one is a clinker that, I suspect, only those who will accept anything Holocaust-oriented will be able to love. Nesher seems to thrive on melodrama, and there's nothing wrong with that (take a look at the work of Douglas Sirk). But running with it and letting it run away with you are two very different things.

The tale here tells of two sisters and two families who've suffered through and from the Holocaust and are continuing in this vein -- though the families' younger generation seems to understand this only cursorily.

The plot hinges on exactly what the father of those two sisters did during the Holocaust, and the movie jerks us back and forth as to his presumed guilt regarding some heinous crimes, as the sisters -- one a talented music student (Katie Holmes look-alike Joy Rieger, above), the other an aggressive journalist (Nelly Tagar, below, left) -- take it upon themselves to investigate.

The movie moves from Israel to Germany to Poland and back (some of the architecture and visuals are fun) and takes in that other troubled family -- mother, brother, and a son who happens to be a successful composer with eyes (and ears) for our musical sister -- all to little (or, depending on your tolerance level, way too much) avail.

The biggest problem with the movie is the character of the father (played with a My Cousin Rachel array of is-he-or-isn't-he? nonsense by Doron Tavory, above, left), who consistently lies (either outright or via omission), has been physically abusive to his elder daughter, and keeps trying to sweep everything under the carpet, as does mom (Evgenia Dodina, of One Week and a Day, above, right).

By the time all this is finally sorted out -- and, gosh, so easily via "forgiveness" -- things are beginning to border on the absurd, thanks to the constant melodramatic flourishes and the needlessly ratcheting up of would-be suspense (the scene of the two composers searching the archives for the diary is particularly silly). Performances all around are as good as the overwrought material allows.

Yes, to counter those "denialists," we must keep the Holocaust stories coming. But, come on: We're certainly able to do better than this. From Samuel Goldwyn Films, running 109 minutes, and in English, German, Polish and Hebrew (with English subtitles as necessary), Past Life, after opening on the cultural coasts, hits South Florida today, Friday, June 16, in Miami at the AMC Aventura 24, and in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters and at the Regal Shadowood.

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