Filled to the brim with intense emotions and proud of it, Israel’s “The Other Story” is an outlier among foreign-language films that make it to American screens.
More popular melodrama than the usual exercise in high art, it whipsaws us with so many unexpected passions and surprising events that holding on to your seat is strongly recommended.
But because “Other Story” is directed by the veteran Avi Nesher (who co-wrote with psychologist Noam Shpancer), the film has no lack of traits that compel our attention.
Like Nesher’s underrated “The Matchmaker” and 2016’s “Past Life,” “The Other Story” also offers convincing acting, a focus on women’s issues, and a willingness to connect with problem areas that are currently roiling Israeli politics.
In this particular film the issue is the split between secular Israelis and the ultra-orthodox haredi, a segment of Judaism that Israel’s Neflix hit “Shtisel” has recently turned a domestic spotlight on.
In Israel, this split recently caused political chaos, as the question of whether haredi men ought to be drafted into the Israeli army was a key factor leading to forthcoming elections that will decide the fate of long-serving prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.
Front and center in this particular story is the Abadi family, whose cultural crisis is, not surprisingly, an intergenerational one, but not necessarily in the way you might expect.
As played by Joy Rieger (the star of “Past Life”), Anat Abadi is introduced waking up in the morning in the young women’s dormitory of the Jewish religious seminary she is attending.
Determined to have an ultra-orthodox life, Anat is not only learning its rules and regulations, she’s set to be married in a few weeks to the equally observant Shahar Elkayam.
As played by Israeli singer-songwriter Nathan Goshen, Shahar had been a secular rock star and Anat had been his girlfriend before he chose a religious path and she agreed to join him.
Infuriated by this course of action is Anat’s thoroughly secular grandfather Dr. Shlomo Abadi, sharply played by the veteran Sasson Gabai, who starred in 2007’s classic “The Band’s Visit.”
A psychiatrist with half a century of experience, Shlomo takes Abadi’s choice as a personal betrayal of his values, displaying the kind of withering sarcasm he presumably keeps out of his professional sessions.
Even more furious about Anat’s choice is her mother, Tali (Maya Dagan, who won an Ophir Award for her role in Nesher’s “The Matchmaker”).
Hostile, unscrupulous and manipulative, Tali joins her father-in-law in being willing to do anything to “save” her daughter from what she views as a ruinous life choice.
Joining forces, these two recruit Dr. Yonatan Abadi (Yuval Segal), Shlomo’s son, Anat’s father and Tali’s ex-husband to return from his academic life in America and, in Tali’s words, “use every dirty trick in that sick mind of yours” to get his daughter to change her mind.
A psychiatrist like his father, Yonatan has problems (initially unspecified) of his own back home and has been so largely absent from his daughter’s life that someone sarcastically points out that he’s not exactly father of the year material.
Complicated as all this is, it is only one of the stories “Other Story” tells. Semi-retired, Shlomo has one last case, court mandated sessions with a husband and wife with a young son who are headed for divorce.
Wife Sari (Avigail Harari) comes from an ultra-orthodox background but finds her secular marriage to Rami (Maayan Bloom) to be stifling. So much so she joins a pagan feminist cult that reveres the goddess Asherah, which makes Rami fear for the mental health of their son.
Somehow, Shlomo convinces Yonatan to help him with the situation, which leads to even more complications. And though no one in “Other Story” is without problems, one of the film’s fascinating aspects is its emphasis on the secular intolerance of what is portrayed as an earnest haredi world.
In a culture where everyone has their reasons, this film suggests religious reasons might not be the worst choice of all.
‘The Other Story’
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles, Playhouse, Pasadena, Town Center, Encino.