Suffocating commitment in Next to Her
by Saara Vahermägi
- Asaf Korman’s first feature offers some great performances and unexpected plot twists
Premiered in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and set to be screened at the Haifa International Film Festival this weekend, Asaf Korman’s first feature, Next to Her, tells the complex tale of Chelli (Liron Ben-Shlush), a pretty high-school security guard whose life revolves around her mentally disabled younger sister, Gabby (Dana Igvy). Early on, it becomes clear that there is a co-dependency between the sisters, which isn’t working well for either of them – Gabby stays locked up at home while Chelli goes to work, because Chelli cannot bear the thought of putting Gabby in a nursing home. Instead, they spend their time together watching TV, cuddling and even sharing baths, which makes it plain to see that Chelli’s devotion to her disabled sister is not healthy. After receiving threats from the social services for leaving Gabby unattended during the day, Chelli reluctantly puts her in a daycare centre. This proves to be a bigger challenge for Chelli than it is for Gabby, who seems to quite enjoy the change. Things improve for Chelli when she meets Zohar – a thirty-something gym teacher who still lives with his mother. Chelli is pleasantly surprised at how well he adapts to her and Gabby’s unorthodox way of life, and soon Zohar moves in with the sisters. But after a while, it becomes apparent that Zohar might be the third wheel in the house, owing to Chelli’s smothering commitment to her sister. Things take a shocking turn at the end of the movie, when an unexpected plot twist is revealed.
Editor-turned-director Korman co-wrote Next to Her with his wife and the lead actress of the film, Ben-Shlush, who based the script on her own real-life experience with her sister. This fact may very well account for the highly realistic portrayal of the suffocating relationship between Chelli and Gabby. But under no circumstances should Igvy’s performance be underestimated – her portrayal of Gabby is so convincing that one would think she is actually disabled in real life as well. Indeed, her performance earned her an Israeli Film Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress earlier this year.
Lastly, the clever cinematography by Amit Yasur should not go unmentioned – the majority of the movie takes place in Chelli’s messy one-bedroom flat, and the camera makes the most of the claustrophobic environment with occasional extreme close-ups.