Next To Her focuses on two sisters, Chelli – pronounced Helli – and Gabby. The younger sister, Gabby, is intellectually disabled and Chelli has been caring for her for most of her life.
In an early scene we witness the sisters’ mother visiting her daughters and she’s rewarded with a punch to the nose from Gabby. Gabby’s reaction to her fawning mother is seen as her ‘acting-up’, as opposed to a sign of resentment. Chelli focuses her resentment towards Gabby, but Gabby is under no illusions concerning her mother’s character – or lack-thereof – her punch is arguably payback for her/their abandonment.
The relationship between the sisters frequently borders upon unhealthy and occasionally even neglectful. In one scene Chelli returns home from work to find her sister banging her head on the floor. Chelli acts with a detached resolve, this is all part of their usual routine and displays a complete lack of concern or sympathy, despite her sister’s forehead bleeding.
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Later we witness the two sisters sharing a bath, Chelli playfully begins pushing her sister under the water with her foot. However, the scene quickly takes a turn for the worse when Chelli pushes Gabby’s head under the water and keeps it there for far too long.
Whether it’s baths or toothbrushes the sisters share everything, so when Chelli eventually agrees to place her sister in a day care centre, her dependency upon Gabby for intimacy and companionship is highlighted. Chelli has chosen to live in a symbiotic bubble and it is here, as Gabby begins to forge new routines and friends, that Chelli starts a relationship with work colleague, Zohar, to fill the void.
Chelli quickly develops feelings for Zohar and Chelli’s desire to be intimate with someone leads to her sleeping with Zohar almost immediately. It isn’t long after that the two are in love and moving in with one another. This however, creates a new set of problems; Chelli is putout by the relative ease with which Zohar deals with Gabby and the relationship they form. From here the complexities of the central relationships only deepen but to discuss in greater detail would spoil the film’s latter half.
Next To Her features some outstanding performances from Liron Ben-Shlush (Chelli), Jacob Daniel (Zohar) and Dana Ivgy (Gabby) in this naturalistic film. Quite simply, this is a stunning debut from the Israeli-born filmmaker, Asaf Korman, and to overlook it would be a big mistake.
Next To Her is part of the BFI London Film Festival and it is being screened to the public on Sunday, October 12 and Tuesday, October 14. Visit the website for more information.