Chelli (Liron Ben-Shlush) and Gabby (Dana Ivgy) are sisters who live together in Israel. Chelli loves Gabby dearly and in the absence of their mother has taken it upon herself to look after her younger sister whilst still maintaining a day job. Like all siblings they love each other yet often fight and their close relationship has lead to an unacknowledged amount of co dependency. What makes their situation particularly tricky is that Gabby is intellectually disabled and Chelli is her sole carer.
When a social worker discovers that Gabby is left alone at home during the day, often banging her head against the floor, Chelli is forced to share her burden and take Gabby to a day centre. It is at the point that her sister is no longer totally dependant on her that Chelli finds herself lost and without the purpose she once had. Without the feeling of someone else depending on her completely Chelli no longer feels as loved and so seeks out romantic love instead.
With her unique living circumstances finding love is not easy for Chelli but new co-worker Zohar (Yaakov Daniel Zada) shows some promise. As she and Zohar become closer and his relationship with Gabby also develops Chelli finds herself struggling to keep the two people she loves the most happy as their needs often conflict with one another. The entirety of the film is a series of struggles as people with imperfect lives strive to make them work and tear each other down in the process.
Not only taking the lead but also having written the script Ben-Shlush gives a soulful and honest performance as Chelli; an imperfect woman trying to make the most of a devastating situation. Ivgy gives a wholly convincing turn as the handicapped younger sister and Zada is fantastically hard to read as the too good to be true Zohar.
Next to Her is at times almost painful to watch as the ordeals of the characters start to take a toll on those watching. The film is ultimately rewarding as you are left to question your own judgements of the characters and ask yourself how you might cope in similar circumstances. Coming out of the screening I found myself breathing a sigh of relief and a little too shaken to take in the next film on the schedule. After an experience like Next to Her you will want to take a stroll in the fresh air and let yourself escape from the film. A tough but worthy watch.
Next to Her is on limited release in the UK now.