Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hands that Need Holding

Most films with a mentally impaired character are usually in part about how this person's relatives have difficulty finding time for a personal life. 2014's Next to Her (את לי לילה‎‎) is about a young woman who is distressed by any potential separation from her mentally impaired sister. It's a nice character drama with very good performances that feels oddly incomplete in a way I can't put my finger on.

Chelli (Liron Ben-Shlush) lives alone with her sister, Gabby (Dana Ivgy), for whom she's been the sole caregiver for years. After she comes home from work one day to find Gabby banging her head on the floor, she's forced to take her to a care centre during work hours thereafter.

After some encouragement, Chelli awkwardly begins to explore aspects of personal pursuits she's long avoided. She gets her eyebrows plunked and belatedly accepts an invitation from a male co-worker, Zohar (Yaakov Zada Daniel), to go to a night club. Security won't let her in so she waits around for him and makes some transparent excuses for why she's there when he comes out.

He takes her home to where he lives with his mother and it becomes pretty clear that Chelli's main objective is to get laid. This sequence of scenes is nicely put together and the dialogue is just right, Chelli's excuse that she was at another party with friends who've gone home being just the right kind of insubstantial for him to see through and realise she doesn't mind he sees through it. Her initiating some kissing after awkward small talk feels very real too.

But it turns out he likes her beyond the one night stand and, slowly, despite her trepidation, he becomes her boyfriend and even moves in with her and Gabby.

Gabby can't speak beyond muttering a few words here and there--usually, "No do" or "Chelli" or "Coffee". So Chelli does a lot of interpreting for her and it often feels like her interpretations are either mistaken or insincere, something Zohar quickly seems to pick up on. Chelli is oddly insistent that Gabby not masturbate and pulls her hand away every time she tries, something that perplexes Zohar. When he witnesses Chelli chastising Gabby for playing with herself, he suggests he and Chelli simply go to the next room and let Gabby do what's natural. Chelli can't think of a real reason to object and she seems like she's never actually thought about it before.

There's a lot about her relationship with Gabby that Chelli hasn't seemed to consider, which eventually leads to a terrible mistake. But it seems as though Chelli can get past anything so long as she has Gabby with her, whether Gabby likes it or not. The film is very effective at building its characters. Dana Ivgy's performance as Gabby is particularly impressive and uncompromising.

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