In Two Worlds
Seventeen-year-old Asher has always been something of a troublemaker at school. He has difficulty concentrating in class, and he is compelled by a lot of rage and violence. Surprisingly, he also possesses charm and street smarts. His father is quite strict yet he is preparing him to take over the family’s scaffolding business. However, Asher has a different masculine role model in his gentle literature teacher Rami and forges a special connection with him. Asher is torn between the two worlds and looks for a chance for a new life and identity. When a sudden tragedy occurs, he has to take the ultimate test of maturity.
Director Matan Yair taught literature in Israel for almost a decade before he switched to film-making. I did the same but for a longer period and instead of turning to filmmaking, I turned to film reviewing. Israeli society is a true melting pot with individuals from various backgrounds including challenging youngsters. Both Yair and I believed that we could inspire his pupils by letting them follow their own path of self-discovery. Yair had a special student, the aforementioned Asher who was the inspiration for this film.
We start with a question—how much does it take for a person to achieve their full potential? Asher (Asher Lax) is a 17-year old student, short-tempered, yet sensitive. He doesn’t care much for education and makes little effort to prepare for his final exams. Besides being a student, he helps his father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) with his scaffolding business. Since the old man expects that his son will take over the company one day, the boy doesn’t believe that he has any options for a different life available. But everything changes when Rami (Ami Smolartchik), a literature teacher, becomes both his mentor and a role model. He helps Asher with his studies and shows Asher that he has other options in life apart from his father’s business. Although the teacher gives it his all, he himself is also lost. One day, Rami suddenly disappears from the students’ lives and leaves them with anger and sadness. With a new professor on board, Asher might not be able to carry on with what he has already set out to do.
This is a sincere and compelling portrait of a young man’s self-discovery. Asher has dreams of becoming a student of literature and history – but his temper and circumstances often get in the way. Only Rami has a chance at changing his life for the better. “Scaffolding” is largely the story of the relationship between the teacher and his student; as well as that between a domineering father and his son. Asher is not a likeable character: even if we feel sorry for him a lot of the time, he keeps making aggressive mistakes and never learns from his actions.
The performances are excellent all around. Asher, as a real-life student of the director and a first-time actor, is brilliant in the leading role. His vulnerability, anger, and internal conflict are all visible just by looking into his eyes Ami Smolartchik is also incredible as the polar opposite: the sensitive teacher. Again, there’s a lot of internal conflict in this character, and the understated way with which Smolarchik carries himself in all his scenes, complete with the physical display of vulnerability, is remarkable. Yaacov Cohen is impressive as the domineering yet weak father – by turns supportive and kind; but then tragically oppressive the next sentence. What goes on between Rami and Milo for Asher’s heart is the heart of the film.
There’s something that is fascinating about watching Israeli films. I have remarked in the past that there was a time when you could not pay an Israeli to go to a movie made in Israel but that has changed greatly.