“THE OTHER STORY”— Label, Judge, Condemn


Label, Judge, Condemn

Amos Lassen

 In “The Other Story”, Anat  (Joy Rieger) suddenly decides to marry Shahar (Nathan Goshen) a member of Jerusalem’s insular orthodox community. Her divorced secular parents (Yuval Segal and Maya Dagan) and grandfather (Sasson Gabai) formulate a plot to thwart the upcoming nuptial, with unforeseen results.

Avi Nesher’s warm hearted drama explores an age that is all too quick to label, judge and condemn what it doesn’t understand. Nesher and co-writer Noam Shpancer  effectively build the layers of the story and tighten the tensions. Nesher has stated that some of the inspiration for the film came from the growing phenomenon of ‘hazara betshuva’ (returning to faith) where young secular Jews are turning to orthodox Judaism. That is certainly true of Anat who has renounced her hedonistic youth in Jerusalem to devote herself to the study of the Torah and to live a pure life. Unfortunately, for her, this is a decision deeply resented by her mother Tali and grandfather Shlomo.

Her family sees the forthcoming wedding to singer Shahar as the final straw. Shahar was once a raunchy pop star but is now strictly orthodox and who instead of rock ballads, croons soulful songs to the wisdom of the Torah. In a desperate attempt to win back Anat, the family call upon her estranged father Jonatan  who returns from America charged with finding some flaws in the too-good-to-be-true Shahar.

We see that nothing is quite as simple as it appears on the surface. Anat is committed to her choices and feels that nobody, least of all her unreliable father, has the right to challenge her. (Jonatan’s visit allows him to escape a bruising lawsuit in America). Tali clearly still has some feelings for her ex-husband even if she greets him by throwing a glass of red wine in his face. Her proud father-in-law Shlomo is happy to have Jonatan sharing his house once again and believes that he might actually put a stop to Anat’s marriage.

The dialogue contains some wonderful one-liners and effectively build the layers of the story and tighten the tensions. Shlomo, a psychiatrist by profession, convinces his son-in-law to join him in providing counselling sessions for a couple in crisis. The wife has involved herself in a quasi-feminist cult dedicated to breaking the chains of patriarchy.

The wider themes of the film become more evident when no one is prepared to listen to the other side of the story or try to understand a different point of view. “The Other Story” becomes a reflection on how interfering parents must face the consequences of their actions and how nobody has a monopoly on virtue. This is 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.

Tali has tried talking Anat out of the wedding, 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; she has reason to distrust Shahar. He is a musician who got their daughter into drugs, and Anat followed along when he became ultra-Orthodox. 

Yonatan arrives and is 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 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 is actually based on a true story). 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 it is fascinating to watch  the story unfold. 
The acting is excellent all around. Yuval Segal gives a low-key, nuanced performance as a broken man who is trying get back some of what he’s let go of. Joy Rieger is intense but charming as a young woman who thinks she has found the truth. Sasson Gabai does wonderful work here in the key role of the grandfather. Maya Dagan manages to make Tali into a full-fledged character, rather than just a resentful ex-wife.

Avi Nesher’s “The Other Story “is a complex drama about family, spirituality and love. Its narrative reflects the uniqueness and complexity of Jerusalem, but the emotions that we see and feel are universal.

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