You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Next to Her’

Israeli director Asaf Korman's strikingly lensed debut feature examines the unhealthy relationship between two sisters.

Liron Ben-Shlush, Dana Ivgy, Yaakov Daniel, Sophia Ostritsky, Carmit Messilati-Kaplan, Varda Ben-Hur.

The unhealthily symbiotic relationship of two sisters is explored in intense, naturalistic fashion in “Next to Her,” a strikingly lensed debut feature from Israeli helmer Asaf Korman. Inspired by the experiences of his wife, Liron Ben-Shlush, who penned the screenplay and plays the lead role, the film centers on Chelli, a pretty security guard, who is raising her mentally disabled younger sister Gabby (Dana Ivgy) on her own. Further fest play is in the cards for this provocative, confrontational item, which marks Korman and Ben-Shlush as talents to watch, while Ivgy should draw accolades for her strong, intensely physical performance.

Chelli and Gabby live in a noisy, dilapidated apartment building in a not particularly nice section of Haifa. Although Chelli hates the idea of putting Gabby in any kind of institution, she has no qualms about locking her in the flat and leaving her alone while she’s at work. Her attitude is that Gabby is hers, and that she knows what’s best for her. But Gabby’s howls of distress and habit of banging her head annoy the neighbors, who threaten to report Chelli to social services. Chelli ignores the situation and their complaints by choosing not to answer her mobile phone.

While Gabby’s problems are plain to see, it slowly becomes clear that Chelli has major co-dependency issues. The two twentysomething women dwell in an intimate, feral state with no personal boundaries, which Korman neatly visualizes by showing them sleeping and bathing with their limbs entwined, and using whatever toothbrush or hairbrush that comes to hand. An evening’s entertainment for them is to watch television, cuddled together on the couch that also serves as their bed, in postures that suggest mother and child, or a cohabiting couple.

Eventually, for reasons left unspecified, Gabby is enrolled in a daycare program. Jealous that the care provider, Sveta (Sophia Ostritsky), is able to forge a relationship with Gabby, who seems to enjoy her daycare activities and companions, Chelli seems eager to sabotage her sister’s adjustment by taking her home early. As if to retaliate for the friendships Gabby is making in daycare, Chelli awkwardly seduces nerdy co-worker Zohar (Yaakov Daniel), a substitute gym teacher who still lives at home with his mother.

Zohar might be somewhat socially inept, but he’s infinitely more domesticated than Chelli, and when he moves in with the sisters, his attempt to bring Chelli up to his standards of cleanliness reps one of the pic’s welcome lighter moments. To Chelli’s surprise and resentment, Zohar proves to be great with Gabby, though he doesn’t take to Chelli’s perverse habit of bringing her into the room where they’re sleeping or having sex.

Ben-Shlush’s subtle screenplay, her first, transforms what initially seems like familiar material into something dark and strange, and doesn’t shy away from forcing viewers to confront the uncomfortable sexual situations in which her characters find themselves. Directing with restraint and sensitivity, Korman uses the expert widescreen lensing of Amit Yasour to create a tense, claustrophobic environment. Tightly framed, sometimes in extreme closeup, Chelli is locked into a situation where she crosses the lines between love and sacrifice, nurturing and torturing.

In what is essentially a three-hander, the performances are excellent all around. Petite looker Ben-Shlush endows the tightly wound Chelli with a sometimes mean-spirited contrariness that isn’t so obvious at first, but plays out in strange, unexpected ways. In contrast, Daniel makes Zohar ever more likable and grounded. In perhaps the most demanding part, Ivgy’s acting seems so natural, it’s hard to believe it’s even a performance.

Gritty, realist art direction reinforces the sense of the characters’ enclosed world, just as the sophisticated sound design of near-constant background noise ups the tension.

Cannes Film Review: 'Next to Her'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight), May 22, 2004. Running time: 90 MIN. (Original title: “At li layla”)

Production: (Israel) A United King release of 2-Team Prods. production with the support of The Rabinovich Fund Cinema Project, the Ministry of Economy, Digital Media Support Program, Gesher Multicultural Film Fund. (International sales: Films Boutique, Berlin.) Produced by Haim Mecklberg, Estee Yacov-Mecklberg. Executive producers, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery, Yigal Mograbi.

Crew: Directed by Asaf Korman. Screenplay, Liron Ben-Shlush. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Amit Yasour; editors, Korman, Shira Hochman; production designer, Ron Zikno; sound designer, Ronen Nagel; sound (5.1), Motti Hefetz.

With: Liron Ben-Shlush, Dana Ivgy, Yaakov Daniel, Sophia Ostritsky, Carmit Messilati-Kaplan, Varda Ben-Hur.

More Film

  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu

    China Box Office: Weekend Chart Dominated By Non-Chinese Films

    Unusually, all of the top five films at the China box office this weekend were non-Chinese. That’s a relatively rare occurrence, as audiences typically favor local films over foreign content. But it is one that may happen more often, as high-performing local titles become fewer and farther between due to production slowdowns. The lack of [...]

  • White Lie

    Playtime Boards Canadian Psychological Thriller 'White Lie' Starring Kacey Rohl (EXCLUSIVE)

    One of France’s leading sales companies, Playtime has boarded “White Lie,” a character-driven psychological thriller film from the promising new Toronto-based directors Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas. Now in post-production, “White Lie” is headlined by Kacey Rohl, who has been seen in hit TV series such as “The Killing,” “Arrow,” “Hannibal” and “Wayward Pines.” Rohl [...]

  • Cannes’ Focus CoPro’ Gives Push for

    Cannes’ Focus CoPro’ Gives Push for First-Time Features

    CANNES–Seven first-feature projects will be pitched to an audience of industry professionals at Focus CoPro’, an event hosted by Cannes’ Short Film Corner that will take place Tuesday May 21 at the Palais des Festivals. The pitching session, which is run in collaboration with Nisi Masa and the Pop Up Film Residency, was introduced last year [...]

  • Cannes: Star Alliance Movies Takes Wide’s

    Cannes: Star Alliance Movies Takes Wide’s ‘Blast’ for China (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES  —  Hong Kong’s Star Alliance Movies has pounced on all rights to China on “Blast,” a race against the clock thriller that marks the first full production from Wide, Loic Magneron’s Paris-based sales-production-distribution company. The deal, made against a background of slowing sales to China, represents the first pre-sale on “Blast,” which is now [...]

  • Brazil’s Cinemascopio, France’s Les Valseurs Team

    Brazil’s Cinemascopio, France’s Les Valseurs Team For Nara Normande, Tião’s ‘The Heron’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES — Recife-based CinemaScópio Produções and Paris’ Les Valseurs have teamed on “A Garça” (The Heron), the feature debut from Brazil’s Nara Normande, co-authored by Tião. Brazilian CinemaScópio is behind Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Brazilian Western-thriller “Bacurau,” in competition at Cannes. Les Valseurs is also presenting Qiu Yang’s short “She Runs” at Critics’ [...]

  • Portrait of a Young Woman on

    Cannes Film Review: 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'

    The title of Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” implies that her subversively seductive film will focus on the subject of its titular painting — an 18th-century woman who refuses to pose, in defiance of the arranged marriage into which she’s being forced — when it’s just as much a portrait of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content