At Li Layla (Next to Her)
Despite debuting as part of the Directors’ Fortnight selection at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and picking up a host of awards across the continent, gritty Israeli drama Next to Her (At Li Layla) has only just been picked up by Pecadillo for UK release. Odd, considering there is more than a whiff of Middle Eastern Mike Leigh about the subject matter. Written by and starring Liron Ben-Shlush and directed by her husband Asaf Korman, Next to Her traces the course of the codependent relationship between sisters Chelli (Ben-Shlush) and Gabby (Dana Ivgy-Or), the latter of whom suffers from severe learning difficulties. As they cohabit not only a chaotic apartment but also a shared aversion to outside influences, Korman’s delicate direction allows for a brilliantly acted exploration of the complexities of sibling symbiosis and the boundaries of intimacy.
Having been seemingly left to fend for themselves between sporadic and unhelpful visits from a largely absent mother, Chelli and Gabby’s lives revolve around late-night movie marathons and dodging social services, somewhere in the anonymity of the Haifa suburbs. They bathe together, share toothbrushes and sleep side by side. While not altogether oblivious to her own proclivities, Chelli initially takes on the role of nurturer, but it soon becomes clear that she relies heavily upon this dysfunction to function, and her job as a high school security guard takes on a measure of duplicity. Good intentions abound but it is through her meeting substitute teacher Zohar (Yaakov Zada Daniel) that she is finally forced to confront certain home truths (in every sense), particularly as Gabby’s burgeoning interaction at a day care centre and with Zohar in particular suggest an alternative to her self-perpetuated austere reality.
Given that Ben-Shlush comes from a similar background and based Next to Her on her own care-giving experiences, it is perhaps open to expectation that the film bears all the social-realist hallmarks of other similarly self-helmed minimalist dramas. Soon to be mentioned in the same vein as Pablo Larrain or Cristian Mungiu, the Ben-Shlush-Korman détente adds a delicacy of touch to an inherently hard-hitting genre, and Next to Her is a starkly gripping debut with genuinely excellent lead performances.
Next to Her is released in selected cinemas on 11th March 2016.
Watch the trailer for Next to Her here: