Cannes 2014 – ‘Next to her’
When I pass by a park or a playground, and it’s full with kids having so much energy and tiring their parents and grandparents out, I just do not see myself having kids and dealing with them all day long for anytime soon. It’s just so much work and so much to deal with. That’s why I get impressed when people my age are already parents and my questions are always: why? and how do they do it?
Having a kid implies tons of sacrifices so it must be such a good relief and a proud moment the moment you feel that your children are turning into adults. Autonomy, that’s what that is. Being able to behave in public, have social abilities and be responsible for its acts are those kind of features that let you belong in that next part in life.
So what happens when you have to deal with people that stay in previous phase? The phase when they act like children even though they grow older?
That’s the story that has to live Chelli (Liron Ben-Shlush) with her sister Gabby (Dana Ivgy), in the film Next to her, by Israeli director Asaf Korman, presented in the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs during the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. And it turned out to be one of the best films I got to see.
As the lights go down you are dragged into the world of a woman struggling for the balance between her job and her personal life, which includes taking care of her younger sister Gabby, with a mental disease. She’s doing the best that she can but is just not working.
So as the situation gets out of hands, she puts Gabby in a ‘day-care’ to have less responsibilities on her daily basis. She has made her sister depend so much on her that her life is full arrangements and sacrifices to put up with this task: her house is a mess, as they sleep together all nights on the couch and there is not time to clean, her schedule is really compact and she even seems to have forgotten about dating.
But this last thing changes when at the school where she works she meets the new gym teacher, Zohar, and starts going out with him. Things seems to go really well with him and now she deals with all things at the same time. With a lot of support from this new man, everything starts to work smoothly.
Changes come as they start living together, and she has to adapt her sister and herself to the situation. But all we see is that impossibility of Chelli to really assume it. In a deeper view it’s not her sister that depends on her anymore but she is the one who has the need of helping her, even when it’s not really necessary. She’s trying her best and her choices may not be the right ones.
She wants to live a new chapter with Zohar, but her sister will always come first. That’s why at night she cannot abandon her or she will always bring Gabby to the room to keep her company. Those are symptoms of over caring, taking so much in her own hands and don’t letting Gabby be independent in her own possibilities. Zohar intervenes and lets her know that there’s not just one way to handle the situation as he helps her with other choices from what she would have made.
Despite his effort and even when they are together, Chelli is not fully herself, she gives it all only to her sister.
Even if she tries, Chelli just cannot handle it. Her life is not hers anymore. She lives and breathes for Gabby and her mind is clouded letting her see only the best for her sister and not for herself, blinding her from reality as she tries to protect her.
Even if there are plenty of books teaching you how to be a parent, each case is different, and parenting seems to be improvising and wishing for luck, for the most part. Dealing with adults that behave as children cannot be an easier treat, but the way you handle things will allow you to give that person a life and give yourself a life.
Knowing when to let the other be on his own, setting some limits and keeping the distance in adequate times is also part of the journey. That way you can at least pretend that momentarily they have given the step to independence and you can take a break and breath for your own sake.