Past Life, a hauntingly powerful film by Israeli director Avi Nesher, is a complex story of an Israeli family struggling with coming to terms with a painful past and achieving what partial healing and reconciliation may be possible in this world. Set in Israel, Germany, and Poland in 1977, it is part detective story, as a talented young Israeli singer and would-composer undertakes to uncover the secret of her father's World War II past. It is part medical mystery as her more angrily frustrated sister struggles with serious illness, which in her mind is inseparable from the family's wartime legacy. And it is a moving family drama, as two families, permanently damaged by the war are unexpectedly reconnected and forced to reconsider their lives and their responses to their past.
It takes time to uncover the whole past. What we start out thinking was the crime in question turns out to be but the entryway to a more complex and much more morally problematic tragic post-war experience. The gradual process of revelation is symbolically ritualized, as it were, in the father's drawn out re-construction of his wartime diary. Slowly the pieces of the puzzle come together, resulting in a deeply moving conclusion, in which (against the background of Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem) the human difficulty of offering forgiveness and the limitations of achieving reconciliation are demonstrated. Although healing and reconciliation are tragically incomplete, it is still possible at the end for everyone, through honest confrontation the past, to end up in a better place than where he or she started.
This may be one of the year's most thought-provoking and challenging films.