Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Israel Film Fest: Next To Her

A twenty-something woman, Chelli, takes care of her brain-injured younger sister Gabby (who's also in her 20s) in the Israeli Film Next To Her. Chelli also has a job so she leaves Gabby locked in the apartment alone all day, only to come home and find her sister banging her head on the floor amidst whatever destruction she's wrought during the day.

A social worker insists she send Gabby to a daycare, which reveals an interesting dynamic: As burdened as Chelli is by having to take care of Gabby, she's also a little jealous when Gabby turns out to really like the daycare.

Things get even more complicated when Chelli finds a boyfriend who, while initially unimpressive, turns out to be a stand up guy who's remarkably good with Gabby.

Here's the thing: This is the most authentic representation of a brain injured kid I've ever seen. Gabby's behavior matches about 90-95% that of The Enigma. The Enigma fortunately doesn't bang her head against hard objects, and she isn't overtly sexual like Gabby, but the running around naked, the biting her own hand, even the sense of humor was similar.

So, this was a very hard movie to watch. I actually asked The Boy if he wanted to leave, since The Enigma tends to yell in a way that gives him headaches, but he was okay. (Gabby actually yells much less in the movie.)

We stuck it out, though, and it's a fine, if ultimately tragic (on a number of levels) tale of sororal love, as Chelli tries to build a life around Gaby, while being suspicious of the possibility that Gaby might want to build a life beyond her.

Dana Ivgy (Jaffa, Or) is simply outstanding as Gabby. Playing a role like this is so easy to get wrong: The nature of the brain injury means having to give up a lot of the actors' usual tools like talking, having appropriate emotional responses, and looking at other actors. Ivgy is uncanny in her portrayal and very effective as an actress.

Liron Ben Shlush as Chelli is also excellent. She loves her sister, but has a wide range of reactions to Gabby's injuries. Sweet, at times, near murderous at others. Shlush also wrote the script, making me think she has some first-hand experience to draw on.

Bold, hard roles for both of them. The other actors, whom I don't really know, were also quite good, especially the hapless boyfriend, Zohar, and the World's Worst Mother.

This is the first feature directed by Asaf Koram, who edited God's Neighbors and Jaffa, and he's to be commended: He fits a great story into a tight 90 minutes, with just a few locations. The packed house I saw it in roundly applauded.

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