Past Life (2016)


Past Life

Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

We follow two women as they cross a rainy street into a concert hall. The two women sit down as a choir, accompanied by an orchestra, is singing a complex musical score. We see Sephi (Joy Riefer) singing a solo. Her singing is beautifully stirring.

A young man, Thomas Zielinski (Rafael Stachowiak) is enraptured by Sephi’s gilded voice. What appears to be his mother, takes the program out of his hands and proceeds to look up the young woman’s name, Sephi Milch.

Past Life

Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn

At the reception afterwards, Sephi is with a friend, making fun of the young men that are trying to catch her eye. It turns out that Sephi’s chorale group is from Israel and they are visiting Germany in a cultural exchange. As Sephi and her choir friend continue to talk, the older woman from earlier walks across the room toward Sephi. Sephi doesn’t pay any attention until the older woman is in front of her. The woman asks if Sephi is the daughter of Dr. Baruch Milch. When she responds yes, the old woman grabs Sephi’s arm so hard that she yelps out in pain. The woman then yells at her in German and has to be pulled off of Sephi by several people. Her son comes over to apologize. Sephi asks what his mother had screamed at her. Ever so hesitantly, the son says his mother went through tough times in the war. When pressed harder for more details, he reluctantly tells her his mother said, “Your father is a murderer. Baruch Milch is a murderer.” Sephi is shaken over the event. Sephi and family are about to go on a journey of discovery that could tear them apart.

Past Life

Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

Writer/director Avi Nesher brings us a moving tale of sibling rivalry, a past that could destroy a family and the determination of Sephi to find the truth; while she struggles to survive in an environment that is trying to get her to quit her dreams. Sephi still lives at home, in a house where her father rules with a cold, iron hand. A man who is haunted by his past. His wife is afraid all the time as if the past is going to come roaring back to life to destroy what little peace this family has. Nana is full of fire, willing to argue her point at a moment’s notice. Unhappily married to her editor, Nana holds the world accountable, including her sister, who she considers weak and sponging off their parents. When Sephi comes home from her trip and tells her sister Nana (Nelly Tagar) what happened, they both decide it’s time to gather information from their father on why this woman would accuse him of such a horrendous act.

Visually, the film feels slightly claustrophobic, as the movie almost chokes on the darkness that fills the Milch’s life. Cinematographer Michel Abramowicz creates a visual look that is muted and somewhat cold. The only time we have breathing room is the moments of singing, which seems to pull the film out of its depressive haze.

Past Life

Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

The three central performances are what makes this film work so well. Both Tagar and Reiger give powerful, multilayered performances. Tagar always brings her anger to the forefront, while Reiger gives her character a quiet restraint. Reiger is the catalyst in this film, the person who keeps pushing the other characters for truth, especially her Father, even when he resists. It’s a sublime performance, one that you cannot take your eyes off – especially when Reiger is on the screen. Doron Tavory has the thankless task of giving the cold, almost heartless, Doctor life in this film.

After Life is full of strong-willed performances with a storyline that has plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing until the end. It’s a tale of the horrors of war that follow people throughout their lives, that the nightmares don’t end when the war does.    My Rating: Full Price

My movie rating system from Best to Worst:  1). I Would Pay to See it Again  2). Full Price  3). Bargain Matinee  4). Cable  5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again

Past Life Website

The film is playing exclusively at Regal Tara Cinemas 4,

For more of Mike’s reviews and interviews click here


  1. Mary Vitta says:

    Well after this review I am really curious to watch that movie. Nice work.

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