Universal emotion in ‘The Other Story’

Beautifully acted, written and photographed, Avi Nesher’s The Other Story is a moving, fascinating and complex drama about family, spirituality and love.

‘THE OTHER STORY,’ with Joy Rieger with the braid, and Maya Dagan (photo credit: MICHELE ABRAMOVITZ)
‘THE OTHER STORY,’ with Joy Rieger with the braid, and Maya Dagan
(photo credit: MICHELE ABRAMOVITZ)
While most directors, especially those who have had a long career, tend to repeat themselves, with Avi Nesher you never know what you’re going to get, but you can be sure that there will be a lot going on.
This year marked a celebration of the 40th anniversary of his first movie, The Troupe (HaLahaka) – a beloved Israeli musical drama about an army entertainment troupe – and the digital restoration and re-release of Rage and Glory, his controversial 1984 film about the pre-state activities of the Lehi Underground. But he has also made a new movie, The Other Story, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and its Israeli premiere at the opening night of the Haifa International Film Festival. And it’s one of his best – a gripping, touching and unpredictable story about a troubled father-daughter relationship that weaves in the conflicts between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis, a struggle that is so central to Israeli life but rarely the focus of fiction.
Its title has many meanings. One is that there are parallel stories of young women rebelling against society’s expectations, but in very different ways. The central story is about Yonatan (Yuval Segal), an Israeli psychologist who has been living in America for decades and has lost touch with his daughter, Anat (Joy Rieger), and his ex-wife, Tali (Maya Dagan). He comes back to Israel after Tali summons him, telling him their daughter has become ultra-Orthodox and is about to marry. She has tried talking Anat out of it, but with no success. It isn’t just that Tali, a successful Tel Aviv businesswoman, doesn’t like the idea of having a religious daughter. But she has reason to distrust Shachar (Nathan Goshen), the young man who is about to become her son-in-law. He is a musician who got their daughter into drugs, and Anat followed along when he became ultra-Orthodox.
Yonatan shows up, repentant that he has been away so long and determined to get through to Anat. But he has his own “other story” that he has been involved in some shady business dealings in America – a biotech start-up that used fake data – and law enforcement is closing on this company in the US.
YONATAN STAYS with his father, Shlomo (Sasson Gabai), who is also a psychologist, in a cluttered Jerusalem apartment. While Yonatan is prepared for and endures Anat’s hostility, it still hurts. He realizes that even if he discovers that her groom-to-be is untrustworthy, this won’t win him back his daughter’s love. As Yonatan searches for a way to reach her, he learns about a couple Shlomo is treating who are in the midst of a bitter child custody battle.
The bone of contention is that the wife (Avigail Harari) is part of a women’s cult which engages in pagan rituals that involve blood, and the husband (Maayan Bloom) fears for their son’s safety. This part may seem incredible but it is actually based on a true story. And as anyone who lives here knows, Jerusalem is filled with true believers, but their beliefs often go in wild directions. Yonatan sees this case as a way to engage his daughter, whom he believes can win the wife’s trust and will share his concern for their young son.
This strange story takes Yonatan and Anat on a strange journey through their past and through Jerusalem. There’s too much damage done and all the characters are too flawed for anything important to happen quickly or easily, but watching the story unfold is engaging and satisfying.
The acting is superb all around. Yuval Segal, whom fans of Fauda will recognize as Moreno on that show, gives a low-key, nuanced performance as a broken man who is trying get back some of what he’s let slip through his fingers. Joy Rieger, who won the Best Actress Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival for her performance in the film Virgins, and who also starred in Past Life, Nesher’s previous movie, is intense but charming as a young woman who thinks she has found the truth. Currently appearing in the Broadway version of the Israeli film, The Band’s Visit, in the role he originally played in that movie, Sasson Gabai does wonderful work here in the key role of the grandfather. Maya Dagan, who was so memorable as Clara in Nesher’s The Matchmaker, manages to make Tali into a full-fledged character, rather than just a resentful ex-wife.
The soundtrack mixes a gorgeous orchestral score by Cyrille Aufort with original songs by Nathan Goshen, a well-known Israeli musician who, like his character, has become religious.  The script, which Nesher co-wrote with Noam Shpancer, mixes just enough comedy with the drama to keep the film from being too dark. Throughout, it features a big-hearted generosity toward its characters and focuses effectively on Nesher’s frequent themes of downfall and redemption.
Beautifully acted, written and photographed, Avi Nesher’s The Other Story is a moving, fascinating and complex drama about family, spirituality and love. Its narrative reflects the uniqueness and complexity of Jerusalem, but the emotions it evokes are universal.