Next to Her, a debut feature from Israeli filmmaker Asaf Korman is an emotionally charged drama exploring the interdependent and oftentimes complicated relationship between sisters Chelli and Gabby. It is a tale of two sisters cohabiting in suburban Israel, and their experiences with relationships, love, and despair. However, integral to this otherwise ordinary family dynamic is the fact that Gabby suffers from a mental disability that leaves her infantile, and Chelli takes on the responsibility of being her full-time carer. A security guard at a local school, Chelli sacrifices her freedoms and youth to be at her sister’s beck and call, but it soon becomes apparent that even unconditional love can be flawed.
Chelli – played by Liron Ben-Shlush, who also wrote the screenplay – is adamant that she does not need the assistance of day-care facilities and keeps Gabby at home while she leaves for work every morning. Despite this, she returns home almost every day to complaints from neighbours about the incessant noise made by Gabby as she beats her head on the ground out of distress. As a result of the pleads by the girls’ estranged mother and constant threats from Gabby’s social worker, Chelli reluctantly decides to enrol Gabby in day care, unaware that this choice will change their lives in a way she had never anticipated. During this time, Chelli meets Zohar, a substitute PE teacher at the school who lives with his mother, and soon falls in love. All seems to be going well for her, as she finally begins to live a self-fulfilling life, away from her younger sister. But things soon turn sour, as it becomes increasingly apparent that Chelli is much more dependent on her habitual life with Gabby than first thought. This is not all, as the sisters’ lives soon become riddled with anguish at the realisation that Gabby is pregnant, and the subsequent termination of the pregnancy.
The film explores the nature of sisterly love and its stifling consequences in a subtle and thoughtful way, and how well meaning choices can lead to disastrous outcomes. Next to Her depicts the sheer selflessness of Chelli while also not painting her with a saintly brush, but rather presenting her as a human who is capable of doing wrong. Well after the credits have rolled, the film leaves a bitter but impactful afterthought for the viewer through challenging the very notions of love we see as synonymous with a happy ending.