Before I talked to Joy Rieger, the young star of Avi Nesher’s latest film, The Other Story, about her role in the film, we took a moment to discuss what is truly the “other story” of the moment: the tragic death of Nesher’s son, Ari, in an accident in late September.
“At the premiere, I sat near my parents, and as I watched, I connected to the loss,” she said. “The film is so real, and I think it’s the most personal film he’s ever made. Avi is so connected to [his daughter] Tom, and the movie is about a father and daughter, and about accepting your children for who they are, not who you want them to be. I think it’s Avi’s most outstanding, most gripping film.”
It’s an absurd coincidence that what ought to have been pure joy over the release of Nesher’s 20th film should be mixed with the deep sorrow of his loss. But the release date of October 25 was set long in advance and could not be postponed. The movie already had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September and its Israeli premiere at the Haifa International Film Festival. Prior to its release last week, The Other Story was seen by a record-breaking 40,000 viewers around the country on Israeli Cinema Day, October 17. The numbers from the opening weekend were strong, and the movie has received great critical acclaim.
Rieger plays Anat, a young woman from a secular family who has dealt with the pain of being abandoned by her father by becoming ultra-Orthodox. As the movie opens, Anat is preparing to marry her fiancé, a musician (Nathan Goshen). The two of them led a wild, drug-fueled life before they found religion. Her mother, Tali (Maya Dagan), opposes the marriage, fearing Anat will be trapped for life, but has failed to reach her daughter. So she summons her ex-husband, Yonatan (Yuval Segal, of the TV series Fauda), a psychologist who has lived in the US for years, to return to Israel to talk some sense into her, with the help of Anat’s grandfather (Sasson Gabai).
Much of the film deals very convincingly with the tempestuous reunion of the father and daughter. Rieger’s utterly compelling and touching performance has won her rave reviews and enhanced her status as one of Israel’s leading actresses. Her beauty is reminiscent of European stars of the ’60s, but it is her acting talent that has made her stand out, and she speaks thoughtfully of the complexity of the role.
“I think everyone can relate to this story of how, at the end of the day, every family has its problems, and how far you will go to save your family, and to save yourself in the process,” she said.
Making the movie was a rewarding, collaborative experience. “Avi takes a long time casting, he looks for people who will bring something of themselves to the characters.... We did a lot of improvisations, and some of the things we said were added to the text.”
In order to play a character who has chosen an ultra-Orthodox life, Rieger spent time with young women who had become religious and lived at a seminary for a few days.
“I could never be religious, I could never follow all those rules,” said the actress, who has been open about her bisexuality and her relationship with actress Moran Rosenblatt, which lasted for several years. But along with the aspects of religion that don’t attract her, she could see “the beauty in it, the joy... how people take care of each other, are there for each other.” Through her research, she came to understand better “how Anat longs for a true family, how she goes after what she wants and is terrified that her father’s presence in her new life will ruin everything.”
RIEGER HAS gone after what she wants – her acting career – since she was a child. Born to parents who emigrated from Belgium, and raised in Herzliya, she began acting in children’s musical productions as a child, then graduated to serious theater and children’s television.
“There was never anything else that I wanted to do,” she said.
She moved into young adult roles in the 2014 film Valley and the television series Johnny and the Knights of the Galilee (aka Milk and Honey) in 2015, but Nesher first saw her work when she appeared in two short films directed by his daughter, Tom, who was then a high school student. He had been searching for months for an actress to play Sephi Milch, a classical composer and singer in Past Life, his previous film, and was immediately struck by Rieger, but there was a catch: She needed to sing opera, since he refused to consider dubbing in a singer’s voice.
“I didn’t believe I would get the part,” she said, but in spite of that, she committed to a year of operatic training. The gamble paid off, for both the actress and the director and Past Life turned Rieger into one of Israel’s most sought-after actresses.
Last spring, she won the Best Actress Award at the Tribeca Film Festival for her starring role in the movie Virgins, directed by Keren Ben Rafael, which will open throughout Israel on November 8.
She is currently appearing in two major plays, Sholem Asch’s classic God of Vengeance and Hillel Mittelpunkt’s The Others at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv.
“I do mostly theater now. They don’t make enough movies.”
It’s clear that no matter how many movies she makes, The Other Story will be a special experience in both her life and her career. “There was a great atmosphere on the set. It was like a family. I felt a real connection to Yuval, Maya, Nathan and Sasson.”
And The Other Story deepened her connection to Nesher, who has always been an actor’s director: “It was my dream to work with him. I think we will do another movie together.... Avi writes such amazing roles for women.”
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