Next to Her (2014) — Image via makna-presse.com

Next to Her

Directed by Asaf Korman (2014)

At one point in Asaf Korman’s Next to Her (At Li Layla), as we are watching 24-year-old developmentally disabled Gabby (Dana Ivgy) beat her head against the floor of the apartment she shares with her sister Chelli (Liron Ben-Shlush), an angry neighbor starts banging on the wall and yelling threats. The cacophony is difficult enough to bear as a viewer sitting in a movie theater, but for Chelli, this is apparently the sort of thing she must deal with every day. Written by Ben-Shlush, whose own sister apparently has a condition similar to Gabby’s, Next to Her proves to be an intense, visceral glimpse into life as both a caregiver and care recipient amidst support structures that are shaky at best.

Next to Her (2014) — Image via makna-presse.comAs we learn early in the film, Chelli has been taking care of Gabby for much of her life. The sisters’ mother drops by occasionally and sends some small financial support, but she clearly does not know how to handle Gabby, and evidently her new husband wants nothing to do with her daughters. Since her contributions are not enough to make ends meet, Chelli has taken a part-time job as a security guard at a school — and, reluctant to entrust her sister to anyone else while she is at work, she has taken to locking Gabby up alone in the apartment. This is just the first of many obviously bad decisions on Chelli’s part that we can nonetheless empathize with. In any case, when social worker Shifra (Liat Goren) gets wind of this, she forces Chelli to start sending Gabby to an adult daycare facility.

Although Chelli resents having to partially let go of Gabby and clearly does not trust the daycare proprietor Sveta (Sophia Ostrisky) to know what is best for her sister, she does start taking advantage of her new modicum of freedom. Most notably, she initiates a relationship with substitute gym teacher Zohar (Yaakov Zada Daniel), who soon moves in with her and Gabby. The mostly patient Zohar turns out to be good at helping with Gabby, but over time he increasingly comes to question some aspects of Chelli’s behavior toward her sister, gradually forcing Chelli even further outside her codependent comfort zone.

Next to Her (2014) — Image via makna-presse.comNext to Her is mostly Chelli’s story. (Indeed, in France, the film is simply called Chelli.) As events unfold, we see not only the toll her responsibilities have taken on her personal life but also the myopia that prevents her from fully perceiving the impact of her actions on her sister. That being said, Ivgy does an admirable job of helping us see things just a little bit from Gabby’s perspective, as her world starts to expand to include her friends at the daycare center and then Zohar. And then ultimately, in a quietly harrowing scene at the end of the film, both we and Chelli are forced to finally see Gabby as an independent human being with her own reactions to the circumstances that have been imposed upon her.

Needless to say, Next to Her is not a particularly cheerful film, but it is a humane and even slightly hopeful one. There are no heroes or villains in Ben-Shlush’s script, just people who are trying to do the best they can with what they have, and Korman and his collaborators bring this world to life with subtle performances and compelling images. All in all, Next to Her proves to have been another strong pick from the programmers at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.