Past Life full movie review - Uncharacteristically low on warmth and humor, but impressive
At one of the preview screenings, director Avi Nesher related that Graham Daniel, the revered sound mixer he'd been lucky to cajole into working on this film, compared him to Kubrick as a pain in the neck.
Nesher is apparently a perfectionist on the Kubrick level and the results are not only on the soundtrack but also visible on screen in the lighting, the detail, and the recreation of period settings. After a run of four big successes since returning to Israel, it seems Nesher can manage to raise a bit of a budget. Apparently he even rented and repainted a bus just to insert a momentary tribute to one of his previous films (unless that bus was just a visual effect).
What those previous hits had that Past Life doesn't is a coating of warmth and humor. Past Life is based, apparently closely, on a true story about secrets from the Holocaust. It's been very successful in overseas showings, and it might be said cynically that world audiences love to see spiritually tortured Holocaust survivors, especially when the portrayal is spiced with intimations of personal guilt and, above all, an implication that the Arabs of Palestine are the victims of the victims. But although the warmth is missing and so is the humor (except in some wisecracks from one of the main characters, who is based on journalist Shosh Avigail), it's possible to like the film for the right reasons as well as for the wrong ones.
Nesher said that the film has an odd narrative structure because of its faithfulness to the real story. It does have an interestingly odd structure, as well as some nice feints in unpursued directions, a cliché or two, and an ending that may seem less definitive to the audience than it does to the characters. As in all Nesher's recent movies, the acting is first-rate. Nesher continues his practice of casting comedians in straight roles (this time it's Muli Shulman); he's said that whereas those trained as stage actors give top priority to serving the text, comedians understand the importance of keeping the audience's attention at every moment. I wonder whether the movie will be as popular in Israel as his previous few have been.