VOD film review: Next to Her
Ivan Radford | On 16, Mar 2016
Director: Asaf Korman
Cast: Dana Ivgy, Liron Ben-Shlush
Watch Next to Her online in the UK: Amazon Prime / FilmDoo / BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / Vimeo On Demand / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
There are films that feel realistic – and there are films that feel closer to documentaries. Next to Her is the latter.
Asaf Korman’s drama follows the struggle of Chelli (Ben-Shlush) to look after her sister, Gabby (Ivgy), who has a mental disability. It’s a loving relationship, as Chelli devotes her entire life to caring for Gabby, but not necessarily a healthy one; Next to Her gradually peels away the layers of domestic duties to explore just how intense the siblings’ bond is.
Korman shoots the whole thing with an intimacy that borders on uncomfortable. Close-ups are the order of the day, forcing us to the share the compact quarters of the sisters, who are similarly pressed up against each other – often literally, as they curl up on the bed to watch the telly.
The script reinforces that balance of natural and unnatural proximity. Penned by Liron Ben Shlush, Korman’s wife, it’s clear that the actor knows the material as well as her character knows her sister: Liron writes their exchanges with an understanding of Gabby’s outbursts, but performs them with a cruel appreciation of the burden they place on Chelli. The result is a grey area between caring and bullying, as the frustrated mothering swings between concern and impatience. One moment, she’s stroking Gabby’s hair; the next, she’s locking her in the apartment so she can go out to work.
Dana Ivgy is astonishing as Gabby, throwing herself into the physicality of the role with a dedication that gives this the air of non-fiction rather than fiction. There’s an almost tangible air of affection between the performers, which underscores everything, no matter how awkward it gets.
The awkwardness arrives halfway through, in the form of Zohar (Yaakov Zada Daniel). As Chelli is required to place Gabby in daycare, we see Gabby form bonds with other people – something that leaves her older sister feeling lonely and estranged. Korman’s decision to frame everything so tightly means that we really notice the physical gap this opens up between them. (The title, Next to Her, is no coincidence.) And so Chelli seeks to fill that gap with Daniel’s male suitor, a move that only makes things messier.
The theme of dependency is subtly underscored throughout, from Chelli’s use of Zohar as an emotional surrogate to the fact that he still lives with his mum. It’s gradually dragged into the daylight, though, as Zohar moves in to the family home, turning the already close twosome into a threesome, which throws up questions of practical cleanliness, emotional conflict and the boundary between conventional and unconventional relationships. Should Gabby be allowed in the bathroom when Chelli is showering? And should Chelli stop her younger sister from exploring her own body in the lounge? (“Let’s give her some privacy,” suggests Zohar, leading Chelli out of the room.)
The cast are superb, engaging with these provocative issues with sincerity, but it’s the little touches, such as the audio, that elevate this from a well-acted drama into documentary-like territory; from the everyday background noises of the flat to the bumps of Gabby’s head against the floorboards, the result sounds like real life, and it’s a sound that we, and Chelli, can never get away from.
Next to Her is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.