'The Other Story': Film Review

At least one story too many.

Avi Nesher's drama revolves around two families affected by the growing divide between the secular and ultra-religious in Israeli society.

The increasing divide between the secular and ultra-religious in Israeli society would seem to provide the opportunity for compelling drama. Unfortunately, veteran director Avi Nesher (The Wonders, The Matchmaker) squanders that opportunity with his latest effort. Diluting its powerful themes with overcooked melodrama and unnecessarily distracting subplots, The Other Story would have benefited from a simpler, more direct approach. The film, a box office hit in its native country, is now receiving a theatrical release on our shores.

The central storyline involves the impending marriage between two young people in Jerusalem who have both abandoned their hedonistic lives to embrace Orthodox Judaism: Shahar (Israeli pop star Nathan Goshen, making an impressive screen debut), a famous singer turned yeshiva student whose music has changed from licentious pop, complete with raunchy music videos, to soulful odes to the Torah; and Anat (Joy Rieger), whose newfound religiosity doesn't sit at all well with her mother Tali (Maya Dugan) and grandfather Shlomo (the great Israeli actor Sasson Gabai, The Band's Visit), who take it as a complete rejection of their liberal values.

Desperately hoping to prevent her daughter's wedding, Tali calls upon her ex-husband, Anat's estranged father Yonatan (Yuval Segal, Fauda), to return from America and dig up some dirt on the prospective groom. It doesn't take long for that to happen, as Yonatan discovers that Shahar is an apparent drug addict and has probably made Anat one as well.

That would seem to be more than enough material to fuel a juicy storyline, but Nesher and co-scripter Noam Shpancer throw in much more. Both Shlomo and Yonatan are psychologists, so the former enlists his son's help in counseling a couple, Rami (Maayan Bloom) and Sari (Avigail Harari), who are going through a painful divorce. They're involved in a bitter custody battle over their young son, with Rami fearing for the little boy's safety now that Sari has become involved with a feminist, paganistic cult. When Rami runs off with his son, Yonatan takes it upon himself to track them down, getting Anat involved in the volatile situation as well.

Yet another subplot involves a series of frantic phone calls Yonatan keeps receiving from his American partner in a software startup business. The company has apparently become the target of a lawsuit alleging fraud that could land them both in jail.

It's all too much to take in, and over the top, especially when the proceedings awkwardly and unconvincingly veer into semi-thriller territory. It's thus not surprising that the film is most effective in its subtler, quieter moments, as when Tali, driving through the religious Jerusalem neighborhood in which her daughter now resides, disgustedly comments, "Look at this place, it's terrible. This is going to be her world!" The familial relationships are well drawn, from Shlomo taking quiet satisfaction in being reunited with his distant son to Tali's conflicted feelings toward her ex to Yonatan frustratingly attempting to reconnect with his grown daughter, who resents him for exiting her life many years earlier.  

The pic also occasionally throws in brief, intense scenes that turn out to be fantasies imagined by various characters. The effect proves more off-putting than enlightening, coming as a distinct stylistic departure from the otherwise straightforward, realistic goings-on.

Marked by witty, snappy dialogue and superb performances from its ensemble, The Other Story proves compelling viewing despite its narrative missteps. But it's never fully convincing, a fatal flaw considering the socially and politically resonant subject matter.

Production companies: Metro Communications, MiLa Media
Distributor: Strand Releasing
Cast: Sasson Gabai, Joy Rieger, Yuval Segal, Maya Dagan, Nathan Goshen, Avigail Harari, Maayan Bloom, Orna Fitousi
Director: Avi Nesher
Screenwriters: Noam Shpancer, Avi Nesher
Producers: David Silber, David M. Milch, Avi Nesher
Director of photography: Michel Abramowicz
Music: Cyrille Aufort

Editor: Isaac Sehayek

112 minutes