‘Gabby’ played by the award winning Dana Ivgy, portrays a 24 year old girl who suffers from a severe mental disability. She is taken care of by her sister ‘Chelli’, played by Liron Ben-Shlush who has dedicated her life to helping her sister. Coping with both her work and personal life, the two sisters live together in a dingy apartment, existing in an unhealthily symbiotic bubble where everything from toothbrushes to baths are shared.
A heartwarming yet emotional journey that questions human morality and the social/political systems which sometimes fails us. It came to my attention after viewing this film and doing some research that one in eight adults are now unpaid carers in the UK, this comes in the form of looking after a friend or family member who faces an illness, disability or frailty. It estimates to a staggering 6.5 million people who are pulled into a round-the-clock system of taking care of a loved one, which becomes a struggle in managing both their own personal and working lives, this will increase to 9 million by the year 2037.
The UK statistics show that most carers care for just one person (83%), but 14% care for two people and 3% are caring for at least three people. This breaks down to 58% of carers looking after someone with a physical disability, 20% look after someone with a sensory impairment, 13% care for someone with a mental health problem and 10% care for someone with dementia. These unpaid carers help save the government billions of pounds a year, which questions the politics of our health services and how this will continue to dramatically effect us over the coming years.
The two actresses deliver a naturalistic performance, that informs us on the relatable urgency of how far one is willing to go for the person they love and care about. It also leaves us questioning our own personal commitments, and whether one could face such a laborious task in caring for someone who suffers an extreme mental disability, alone with limited facilities. Where family, love and dedication seems to be the underlining themes of the film, a darkness also clouds the film during moments of mental instability on Chelli’s part, resulting in her own theories of “fixing” Gabby’s situation by having a brief melt-down. This level of mental health can effect a carer due to their exhaustion and the helplessness they can sometimes feel when faced with tasks that they are inexperienced with. While this is not to say that all unpaid carers in the world find it difficult caring for someone, and that money becomes an easy solution, but there are people out there who do need the help and support that can make things a lot easier.
Next To Her is based on Liron Ben-Shlush’s own experience of having a mentally disabled sister, yet what we also learn from the film is that not everyone is trained as a professional carer – and looking back at the immense number of carers in the UK, this becomes worrying in that sense. She is forced to use her own methods in certain situations, although this can lead to the building of inner frustrations from both the carer and the cared if not implemented properly. This is highlighted in the film when Chelli bribes Gabby into doing something by giving her pitta bread and coffee.
This repetitive lifestyle is interrupted when Chelli brings a man into the equation. At this point, we start to see a shift in Chelli’s behavior patterns. While spending all of her time and energy on her sister, she neglects her own self-importance, from the minutiae of daily life, like getting her eyebrows threaded to much larger necessities such as sexual intimacy. While Zohar (Chellis boyfriend) moves in and disrupts the fabric of their intimate existence, his involvement also becomes a breather for Chelli as she is faced with an extra pair of hands to help out.
Besides from being an artistic achievement from director Asaf Korman, the film takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions yet is an essential cultural and educational tool that informs the viewer about the struggles carers have to face. Whether it be in Israel, the UK or other parts of the world, Next To Her is a leading cinematic force that teaches us the importance of love and care and the everyday situations people have to face that we may not always be aware of.
The film will screen at Curzon Bloomsbury March 9th with a special Q+A with the director and actors. You can book tickets here: http://www.curzoncinemas.com/bloomsbury/qas/next-to-her
To find out more about UK statistics and how to be involved in helping unpaid carers in the UK, go to: http://www.carersuk.org/