The Sins of the Father
By Skip Sheffield
“Past Life” is proudly “Made in Jerusalem” by writer-director Avi Nesher. Set in 1977, it concerns past events in the dark year of 1939 in Poland.
Nana (Nelly Tagar) and Sephi Milch (Joy Rieger) are the daughters of Holocaust survivor Dr. Barach Milch, now a successful gynecologist in Jerusalem. Older sister Nana works for a racy magazine owned by her husband Jeremy Kotler (Tom Avni), but she dreams of being a novelist.
Sephi has even bolder dreams. Though she is still a student at a musical academy and is a featured soloist in its choir, she dreams of being a composer.
The story begins with a concert in which Sephi is featured. At the reception afterward she spots an attractive German boy. Suddenly she is accosted by an older woman who grabs her and screams “You are the daughter of a murderer!”
The German boy subdues the woman. Sephi is shaken. The boy is Thomas Zielinski (Rafael Stachowiak), already a successful composer. The older woman is his mother (Katarzyna Gniewkonska). Thomas apologizes profusely, and when he returns as a visiting professor, he takes a personal interest in Sephi.
When Nana learns of the incident she becomes determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of whether their father was a blameless survivor or a villain.
It is a complex mystery, entailing trips to Poland and Germany, where Barach Milch had vowed never to return. Unlike many Holocaust-related films, this one has a silver lining, but you have to wait for it. It is worth the wait. Oh, and it is based on a true story.