Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Israel Film Center Festival Spotlight: Scaffolding

I’m pleased to be covering the 6th Annual Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs June 5th-12th.

Directed by Matan Yair
Screening June 6th at 8:15pm

Many intelligent teenagers who don’t have a history of positive educational experiences are affected by one particular teacher who helps to reshape their entire attitude. An ability or proclivity for a certain discipline may remain untapped until someone is able to present the material and engage with a student in a way that works for them. The results differ based on the pupil, but an unbreakable attachment forms between the student and teacher that very much has the power to steer the future of their education and possibly even the course of their career and life.

Asher (Asher Lax) is hardly a model student. He doesn’t try hard in school and frequently gets into fights when his hotheaded nature gets the best of him. His father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) stresses hard work as a value, employing his seventeen-year-old son frequently for construction jobs to train him to take over the family business. Asher’s perspective begins to change when he connects to the teaching style of Rami (Ami Smolartchik), who makes literature far more appealing than he ever thought it could be. With his graduation and exams looming, Asher must confront a devastating and unexpected turn of events that could work to undo all of his progress.

There have been many films made about impactful teachers, though the focus is usually on the teacher and how they transform an entire class. Here, Rami is a supporting player who has a clear and lasting influence on Asher, the undeniable protagonist who, even with Rami’s guidance, still tends towards unfortunate decisions and taking the low road. Asher’s father is far from warm, while Rami is vulnerable and relatable in a wholly different way. Watching Asher as he tries to be what he believes a man should be is a compelling journey, one that doesn’t offer an easy road to success, both in terms of Asher’s attitude and events beyond his control.

The breakout of this film, playing a character of the same name, is Lax. He taps into what it is like to be someone frustrated by his circumstances who isn’t content to subscribe to what he’s told to do, and who values the conflicting displays of masculinity presented by his father and by his teacher. Smolartchik received a well-deserved Ophir Israeli Academy Award for his performance, portraying Rami as an educator who genuinely wants to connect with his students but has also become worn down by the way his life has gone. This film isn’t a complete picture of adolescence and the challenges real life brings, but it’s a thought-provoking and powerful start.


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