Monday, December 31, 2018

Matan Yair's SCAFFOLDING: from Israel, a beautiful, believable, nuanced look at a troubled boy on the cusp of manhood

Yet another fine Israeli film reaches U.S. distribution, as SCAFFOLDING -- an unusual character study of a troubled-but-hugely-worth-caring-about Israeli high school student -- written and directed by Matan Yair, hits VOD and DVD via Breaking Glass films.

As a filmmaker, Mr. Yair, shown below, often begins his scenes in the middle of something and/or ends them abruptly, also in the midst of things. This works pretty well, too, as it forces us to observe and contend with a life -- that of the main character, Asher, beautifully played by newcomer Asher Lax -- that seems as fractured as does the ongoing narrative.

Slowly we ascertain that Asher is the only son of a problemed single father -- given to telling jokes, each of which seems more misogynistic than the last -- who owns a construction company specializing in scaffolding and expects his son to take over dad's business rather than pursuing the arts/academic career that apparently beckons him.

Young Mr. Lax, shown above and below, proves a natural -- an enormously attractive and charismatic performer who never needs to push, yet thanks to his talent and beauty, holds the audience securely in his alternately warm and angry grip.

In contrast to his single-minded and physically declining father, Asher's favorite teacher, Rami (played by Ami Smolartchik, shown at left, above and below) seems as physically and intellectually different as could be. We get snippets of how Rami teaches and how effective he is at reaching the difficult Asher. At one point Rami suggests to his student, "Try to be less prickly" -- a quiet and lovely manner in which to make the young man consider his words and actions.

When something totally unforeseen (but not at all difficult to accept) occurs, Asher must find ways to deal with this, as well as with his father and future. (Dad is played by Yaacov Cohen with just the right combo of incivility and caring that he never quite loses us. Nor his son.) On the feminine side are a good friend of Asher (not exactly a girlfriend, however; the young man's sexuality seems at this point maybe indeterminate), various educators, and the wife of the teacher, Rami.

Coming to terms with all this is not at all easy for Asher, but as orchestrated by Yair and Lax, the ongoing movie continues to hold us -- and afterward to haunt us -- via its marvelous combination of observation, compassion, detail and suggestion. The finale takes us just so far, making its quiet point in a moving and compelling fashion that doubles as a kind of memorial to that exceptional teacher.

Running a just-about-perfect length of 94 minutes, Scaffolding, from Breaking Glass Pictures, comes available on DVD and VOD tomorrow, Tuesday, January 1 (for purchase or rental) via iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Vudu, FandangoNOW, iNDEMAND, Direct TV and elsewhere, too. For folk who appreciate foreign films, particularly well-done character studies, I can't think of a better way to begin the New Year.

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