Real-life drama

Director Asaf Korman worked side by side with his wife, actress Liron Ben-Shlush, on the award-winning ‘Next To Her’ – a film inspired by her relationship with her sister.

Asaf Korman (photo credit: RAFI DELOYA)
Asaf Korman
(photo credit: RAFI DELOYA)
Asaf Korman’s debut feature, Next To Her, is an emotionally wrenching tragedy about two isolated sisters, one of whom is severely disabled. But the movie, which had its world premiere at the Directors’ Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival last spring, evolved out of a much happier story – a love affair between Korman and his leading lady, Liron Ben-Shlush, who also wrote the screenplay.
“It all started when I cast Liron in my short film, Death of Shula,” Korman recounted. “I cast her to play my girlfriend... only later did we become a couple.” The short film was accepted into competition at the Cannes Film Festival, and Ben-Shlush, who had broken up with her boyfriend, went to France with Korman. Their romance blossomed, and they married and had a son.
Korman, then a recent graduate of the Minshar art school, became an editor and worked on many movies, among them Big Bad Wolves and God’s Neighbors. Ben-Shlush was nominated for an Ophir Award for her performance in Maya, a drama about an acting student, but meaty roles were hard to come by.
“Liron is first and foremost an actress, and she was frustrated. She wanted to get more acting jobs, and to have really good roles,” said Korman.
They talked about what kinds of parts she might play, and she told him about an idea she had, “loosely based on elements of her life.”
The first year is a very difficult time for parents. But because of the difficulty, we really learned what it is to care for someone else – Asaf Korman Asaf Korman (Rafi Daloya) | METRO 19 The idea was what became Next to Her, in which Ben-Shlush plays a young woman who is the sole caretaker for her sister, played in the film by Dana Ivgy – who won a Best Supporting Actress Ophir Award for her role.
“Dana’s character in the film is a very close copy of her real sister, although Liron’s sister is a bit worse.
What she has is apparently a mix of autism and some mental retardation and physical aspects. She is partly blind.”
Although Ben-Shlush and her sister grew up in a loving family who always took care of them, she imagined what it would have been like had her parents not been able to cope, and if they had abandoned her sister.
“She thought she was just telling me an idea,” recalled Korman, “she didn’t think it was good enough for a film. The moment she told me, I knew this must be my feature. And the idea was very close to the final film.”
Thus began three years of writing.
Eventually Ben-Shlush was helped by a script supervisor, Sari Ezouz Berger, but worked mostly on her own. After a year of writing, Ben-Shlush became pregnant with their son, now four. It was difficult for her to keep writing and raise him.
“But then the most important thing happened,” said Korman. “The first year is a very difficult time for parents. But because of the difficulty, we really learned what it is to care for someone else.”
Inspired by Ben-Shlush’s life with her sister and their experience as new parents, Ben-Shlush was able to complete the screenplay – and Korman was able to figure out how he would direct it.
“On the one hand, it’s very realistic in the sense that you are watching a documentary; on the other hand, when the guy comes into the film” – Yaacov Daniel, who plays the Ben- Shlush character’s boyfriend – “it becomes more of a psychological drama...
You think it’s an art-house drama, but it becomes more of a psychological thriller.”
Given the movies that have influenced Korman, that’s not surprising.
He cites Robert Bresson, Michael Haneke, Werner Herzog, Mike Leigh and John Cassavetes as his favorite directors.
There were three films the pair watched again and again while working on the movie: The Greek drama Dogtooth, “about parents who lock their children at home in order to protect them, but this hyper-protectiveness becomes psychotic”; the documentary Catfish, “which started like a stupid Facebook comedy but becomes a tragic story about a woman living this tragic life”; and The Piano Teacher, about “a character who is detached from her own needs... a very methodical exploration of something crazy.”
Korman credits his unconventional upbringing for his ability to connect to such dark stories. His father is stage and film actor Yosef Carmon; Korman spent many years hanging around and watching his father rehearse in works such as the plays of Hanoch Levin.
“There’s a tendency for not-quite happy endings in those plays. A friend of mine once said I should get the Cameri Theater to pay for my shrink.”
Of late Korman has been busy promoting Next to Her, which has won awards around the world, and has not had time to focus on his next project.
Not surprisingly, he noted, “I hope Liron and I have more films to make as a couple.”