‘Here We Are’ tells a story of love and autism - film review

It won four extremely well deserved Ophir Awards, for Bergman as director, for the brilliant, nuanced screenplay by Dana Idisis, and for both of its lead actors.

SCENES FROM Nir Bergman’s ‘Here We Are.’  (photo credit: Spiro Films and Lev Cinemas/Shai Goldman)
SCENES FROM Nir Bergman’s ‘Here We Are.’
(photo credit: Spiro Films and Lev Cinemas/Shai Goldman)

Nir Bergman has made a number of films about families and their dynamics, among them Broken Wings and his latest, Here We Are, which opens in theaters throughout Israel on Thursday, is a moving look at a family of two and their world.

They are Aharon (Shai Avivi), a divorced graphic artist, who lives in Tivon with his son, Uri (Noam Imber), a young man in his early 20s, who is on the autism spectrum. Uri is gentle and sweet, with a great sense of humor. He communicates with his father in an intimate shorthand that may not make sense to outsiders, but they clearly understand each other. The father and son enjoy a world that is rich in many ways and full of joy, as they travel back and forth on the Haifa-Tel Aviv railway line, where Aharon enjoys the views of the Mediterranean coast and Uri, more often than not, watches Charlie Chaplin movies on his tablet. They bike home and have a routine that both love.
Tamara (Smadi Wolfman), Uri’s mother, visits but it is Aharon who cares, entertains, soothes, and creates a structure for Uri. However, Aharon is in his mid-50s and while he has devoted himself for decades to giving Uri the best possible life, he will not live forever, and someday, some other solution will have to be found for his son’s care. Tamara and the social services establishment think the time has come: She has found a place for Uri in a residential community that sounds wonderful, where Uri will have art workshops and horseback riding.
Uri is understandably terrified of the upcoming change and Aharon, instead of guiding him through it, is no less terrified and is in denial that his son needs more than he can give him. When it comes time for Tamar and Aharon to take Uri to the residential facility, Aharon cannot face it. Instead of taking one last ride to Tel Aviv and going back north, they end up in Beersheba. Uri, predictably, has a meltdown on the platform when Aharon says they are going back north and that Uri will have to move out.
While it is possible to judge Aharon, it is impossible not to empathize with his pain as he makes the impulsive decision to try to find some other way. They visit an old friend of his, Effi (Efrat Ben Zur), where we learn a little more about Aharon’s artistic talent and how he dropped out of a once-promising career. It is not clear how much of this decision was due to his having to care for Uri and how much of his fierce devotion to his son has provided him with a convenient crutch, an excuse for not fulfilling his potential, but the movie is not interested in easy answers.As they head to Eilat, to enjoy a vacation that is not without its challenges, it becomes clear how desperate Aharon is to hold onto his son and how unrealistic his plans are. It is a story that is infused with love in every moment, a kind of bromance that involves a father and son.
 SCENES FROM Nir Bergman’s ‘Here We Are.’  (credit: Spiro Films and Lev Cinemas/Shai Goldman) SCENES FROM Nir Bergman’s ‘Here We Are.’ (credit: Spiro Films and Lev Cinemas/Shai Goldman)
This is not about a bad mother who abandoned her son and the evil authorities who want to take him away. It’s clear that the place Tamara has found is head and shoulders above most facilities for people on the autism spectrum and that any clear-headed parent should jump at the chance to enroll their adult child there. Sadly, love is blind and Aharon’s love blinds him to the inevitable reality that his son is an adult and will have to separate from him at some time.

HERE WE ARE was accepted to the Cannes Film Festival in 2020 and would have had its world premiere there had the festival not been canceled. It won four extremely well deserved Ophir Awards, for Bergman as director, for the brilliant, nuanced screenplay by Dana Idisis, and for both of its lead actors, Shai Avivi and Noam Imber, who won the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Awards and who give extraordinary performances. It has played in festivals all over the world and has won a number of awards, many of which were, not surprisingly, Audience Awards. Shai Goldman’s cinematography drenches the screen in light and a rich score illuminates the action.

Charlie Chaplin is the key to understanding this movie. In Chaplin’s films, everything is literally black and white. There are good guys and bad guys, adventure, slapstick and joyous homecomings. If you watch the opening credits carefully, you will see that the title, Here We Are, is presented like an intertitle on a silent movie. Bergman is saying that, on one level, this is a Chaplin movie, especially The Kid, filled with laughs and heartache, transposed to modern-day Israel. It is interesting how Uri uses the Chaplin tropes to make sense of his world. Eventually, though, both father and son have to see that their lives are not as black and white as the story of Chaplin and the child he raises.
It is only fair for me to write that I am the mother of a son on the autism spectrum, almost exactly Uri’s age and whose level of functioning, communicating and relating to the world is remarkably similar. There are lots of movies and television shows about people with autism who are able to express themselves much more articulately and who are able to live independently.
Every time I write about one of these, I receive emails, sometimes dozens of emails, from parents whose autistic children are not doctors or geniuses and who, like my son, cannot even cross the street or take the bus by themselves. “When will somebody make a movie about our kids?” they ask me. Bergman and Idisis have made the movie we parents want the world to see. Although clearly, I have more than a casual interest in the subject, I would also be exquisitely sensitive to any false notes, but this movie is genuine from start to finish and will appeal to all audiences, not only those with an interest in autism.
A welcome touch is a scene where a bus driver talks to Aharon about how “these people” have all kinds of talents, like the Dustin Hoffman character in Rain Man and how he saw a news feature on one autistic man who creates drawings that look like photographs of intricate cityscapes. Aharon, usually not at a loss for words, just sits there. He’s heard all of this before. He can’t tell the bus driver that he loves Uri because he is Uri and that no genius or talents are necessary for that.
Bergman has made many good movies and while I enjoyed Broken Wings, Yona and Saving Neta, for me, Here We Are is his best and that’s saying something. At times, it is tough to watch because it does not flinch from reality, no matter how difficult, but it earns every moment of grace. It’s one of the finest movies I have seen in years. At the end, you will be glad that you spent 90 minutes with Aharon and Uri, and be thinking about them long after the credits have rolled.