Past Life

In this Israeli docudrama, set during the 1970s, an aspiring composer and her journalist sister investigate the World War II experiences of their secretive father, a Polish Jew who spent the war hiding from Nazis in a farmhouse cellar. Writer-director Avi Nesher has bitten off more than he can chew, covering not only the family mystery but also the sisters’ respective career frustrations, the journalist’s struggle with splenetic cancer, and some business involving a German conductor whom the composer gets to know. Overstuffed and occasionally overwrought, the film is engrossing nonetheless, with a satisfying pace as Nesher juggles the numerous narrative elements. He has nothing new to say about the family relationships of Holocaust survivors, but at least he doesn’t exploit the subject for cheap sentiment, as many similarly themed dramas have. In English and subtitled Hebrew, German, and Polish.