Next to Her (2016)

March 8th, 2016
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Asaf Korman  Writer: Liron Ben-Shlush

Cast: Liron Ben-Shlush, Dana Ivgy, Yaakov Dniel Zada

90min | Psychological drama | Israel 2014.

NEXT TO HER is a startlingly honest first hand account of one woman’s experience caring for her mentally handicapped sister. In her screenwriting debut Israeli actress Liron Ben-Shlush avoids sentimentality and voyeurism to offer a candid and often moving drama exploring the coal face caring for the physically challenged.

Apart from her day job as a site manager for a school, Chelli (Ben-Shlush) has cut herself off from the world to be her sister Gabby (Ivgy) primary carer. The two of them live in a small, desolate flat where they share everything, including a bed: they even bath together. Gabby has the mental age of a two year old, and needs permanent supervision. When Chelli’ mother visits, Gabby plays up, and head butts her. It seems that only Chelli is able to contain Gabby’s unruly behaviour. But the social worker is not happy that Gabby is left alone for many hours a day, and arranges a place in a day-care centre for her. Chelli is slightly miffed when she discovers Gabby likes the centre and has bonded well with Sveta, a leading member of the staff. Suddenly, with more time on her hands, Chelli arranges a date with Zohar (Zada), the PE substitute teacher at her school, who still lives with his mother at the age of 34. Chelli is keen on sex and irritated that Zohar gets on well with Gabby. After Zohar moves into the cramped apartment, Chelli’s jealousy gets worse when she finds out Gabby is pregnant and throws Zohar out, without even looking for an alternative scenario.

Every relationship in a caring capacity, professional or private, is defined by the interdependency between carer and patient. This goes particularly for relationships of this kind between family members where boundaries are even more easily transgressed. Although she lacks freedom, Chelli is very much in control of the relationship and Gabby is dependent on her for everything. It is only too human for Chelli to feel superior – and to enjoy this feeling. When first Sveta, then Zohar show that they have an emotional input with Gabby, Chelli feels challenged. Without giving Zohar a chance, she abruptly reduces the relationship with her sister to the status quo, where she has total control of her symbiotic bond. Zohar has a similar interdependent relationship with his mother, mirroring Chelli’s relationship with Gabby. After Zohar moves in, the space seems to shrink even more, and Chelli has a job on her hands trying to in vain to get Gabby used to sleeping alone.

DOP Amit Yasour Ron Zikno evokes the claustrophobic oppression of this domestic set-up with dark, brownish hues that lighten up when the action moves out to the roof terrace of the block of flats or the school grounds. Directed by her real life husband, Asaf Korman, Ben-Slush and Ivgy interact impressively, the latter having made an in depth study of the mentally handicapped to prepare for her part which she pulls off impressively. Korman directs with instinctive sensitivity, trying successfully to keep the middle ground between film action and the real life events they are based on. AS


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