The Other Story is a revealing film about love and dysfunction
As soon as I sit down to watch a film from another country I try to remind myself that there are cultural norms or practices that I might not totally understand or relate to. But with this in mind I found a lot that I could attach to and relate to in the film The Other Story. This is the first film by director Avi Nesher I have seen. I did some research to see what some of his other stories were about, I was surprised to even see he had directed a Tales from the Crypt film starring Tim Curry. However the most interesting thing I noticed was in recent years his interest in stories about women many of the summaries for his films talked about women mostly in Israel who are dealing with different societal issues. I really am fascinated by male film makers that seem very interested in telling the stories of women.
The Other Story tells the tale of Anat (played by Joy Rieger) who has followed her fiancée to an Orthodox Seminary as a way to escape from the wild drug scene they had been a part of. Her mother Tali (Maya Dagan) and Grandfather Shlomo (Sasson Gabai) are upset about her newfound faith but above all they believe her fiancée would not make a suitable husband. As a way to try to stop the wedding from going through, Tali and Shlomo scheme to have Anat’s estranged father Yonatan (Yuval Sega) come back home to Jerusalem from the States, and convince her to break off the engagement. In between wedding events and scheming sessions Yonatan and Shlomo, who both have backgrounds in counselling, work on a divorce mediation case. The case involves a woman named Sari (played by Avigail Harari) who in an attempt to move on from her strict religious upbringing joins a feminist witch’s coven. The husband is convinced that this group is a “Pagan Cult” in which she and her coven are performing dangerous ceremonies that involve their son Izzy. Eventually these two very different women meet and this changes both of their lives in intense ways, and specifically changing the way they view their own lives.
I was truly moved by many moments in the film, even tearing up at certain points in the story. This is not necessarily what I expected from the description of the film, at times even the tone and score made me feel like I was watching some sort of thriller, but overall it is a family drama that focuses on very different kinds of people. For me the overarching themes in this film were dysfunctional families, our perceptions of other people’s lives, and the expectations we put on those we love, especially children. At one point during the film the Grandfather says “When a child is born two children are actually born, the one you hoped for and the real one. At some point you have to choose between the two.” I feel this sums up a lot of what the film was dealing with; different generations of parents trying to do what is best, but parents are imperfect just like the rest of us and can cause a lot of harm even unintentionally.
Anat and Sari are both characters we see who are grappling with their painful upbringing. Many of these themes hit pretty close to home for me, especially as a child of divorce. Many of the characters have to confront their own prejudices, and dealing with the reality that they might be trying to do what is best for them and not necessarily their families. It was fascinating watching these characters grapple with their underlying selfish motives and trying to make up for the mistakes they have made. I have a large family and even with the cultural differences so much of the family dynamics and drama were incredibly relatable.
As I thought about the film I kept stewing on the idea of trying to accept others and meeting them where they are at, which I think all of the characters end up having to do in this film. With the current social and political climate in the United States I think that this can be difficult especially when it feels like we are past the point of civility. I felt my prejudices boil up with certain characters like Anat’s fiancée and Sari’s husband. There are many times I felt like those characters in no way had others best intention in mind but as I thought about the film even more I realized even those two characters had love either for their partner or their child. It feels too idyllic that love is the answer and common ground for everything, even when times are really rough but at the same time being too idyllic isn’t the worst thing a film can do right? I am still going over what I liked or didn’t like about how the stories tied up but I love that it is a film that has kept me thinking.
I also want to make sure I highlight how terrific the acting in this film was. Joy’s performance as Anat was wonderful I loved this character who was rebellious, resourceful, and wise beyond her years. I also thoroughly enjoyed Avigail’s performance as Sari who was feisty and stood up for herself in a relationship and culture where women are not always given the equality they might want. The scenes where the two of them interact were some of my favorite in the film. I also loved the rest of Anat’s family. Her mother Tali is a strong single mom who clearly loves her daughter but is also lonely and cannot find the right ways to connect with her. Yonatan, her estranged father, felt like much more of a clinical mind who cannot express emotions the way she might want him to and is preoccupied with his own legal issues back in the United States. I’m also a sucker for a sarcastic grandfather character like Shlomo.
There are some great moments of filmmaking in this as well. I always love when a film pulls off showing the audience something as opposed to telling them and there were several moments like that in the film. Overall I felt it was a sweet film that is not necessarily reinventing the wheel but is just telling a story about family and love. It was an enjoyable journey with characters I enjoyed spending time with. I think this film has a lot of great moments to enjoy and I felt the warm and fuzzies as soon as it was over.
The Other Story opens in Philly theaters today.