It’s fair to say that there are few taboos left in the modern world, but the near-incestuous relationship of a 26-year old woman with her younger, mentally disabled sister probably ticks the box.
In Israeli film Next to Her, Chelli (Liron Ben Shlush) has devoted her life to 24-year old sister Gabby (Dana Ivgy). The two live in a dingy apartment while their single mother, the only other familial figure in the film, works remotely. One day, a social worker insists that Gabby is enrolled in a day care-centre and Chelli caves in. The elder sister, whose routine had until then almost entirely revolved around her sibling, struggles to make sense of her newly freed time and let Gabby develop as an individual. She meets sports teacher Zohar at the school where she works and the two fall in love. But things get ugly when Zohar moves in with Chelli and the latter cannot bring herself to sleep in a separate bed from her sister’s. The Israeli boyfriend soon understands that he has embroiled himself in a sinister trio.
Based on Liron Ben Shlush’s own real-life experience with her mentally ill sister, Next to Her offers us an unsparing insight into mental disability and how it can play out in families. Beyond this, however, is the investigation into the more universal theme of slipping boundaries between love, care and control. From helping Gabby brush her teeth, Chelli is never too far away from forcing herself down her sister’s throat. The occasional sisterly stroke can also backslide into a slap.
The sisters’ oppressive relationship is rendered even harder to watch by the fact that most of the action takes place in huis clos in what are at times uncompromisingly narrow shots. Closing doors are a recurring imagery in Next to Her, and as Gabby is locked up and protected one also senses the many possibilities which are being shut out of the lives of both women. Though it is, ultimately, Chelli's possessive expression that appears behind the net of the play-hut while her sister basks in a sea of balls with Zohar like any normal, cheerful human-being.
Having written the script and enacted a character drawn from her own life, Liron Ben Shlush's performance is absorbing. Likewise Dana Ivgy and Yaakov Daniel Zada lend much heart to the characters of Gabby and Zohar and approach the theme of mental disability with great sensitivity.
Hebrew critics have hailed the film as an achievement for Israeli cinema and it was selected for the directors' fortnight for the 2014 Cannes edition. With this triumphant first feature, it makes no doubt that 33-year old director Asaf Korman is one to watch in international cinema.
|What||Next to Her film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
11 Mar 16 – 11 May 16, Times vary between cinemas
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go to the film's IMDB page|