Scaffolding (Matan Yair, 2017): Israel. Hebrew title: Pigumim.

Reviewed by Diana Diaz. Viewed at the Metro Four Theater, Santa Barbara.

Coming of age dramas continually captivate, especially when as well crafted as this first feature by director Matan Yair.  The Director is actually the former teacher of the film’s star, Asher Lax and based the film somewhat biographically.  Asher retains his own fist name in the film.  17-year-old Asher finds himself torn between wanting to study for his matriculation exams and wanting to please his sometimes punitive dad who needs Asher to take over the family business while he recovers from surgery – school or no school.

A kindly literature teacher, Rami (Ari Smolartchik), inspires Asher to better himself.  He is inspired to do an extra assignment which Rami gives to a more advanced class.  Meanwhile, Asher’s never knows how his father will treat him – kind one moment, and harsh in the next.  Apples don’t fall far from the tree, and much of Asher’s struggle is an internal one to control his own explosive emotions in a school which is appears ready to kick him out.  Being only semi-literate most likely doesn’t help any academic aspirations.  Asher would rather crack a joke than crack open a book.

The film’s relatively simple bones contain great performances by the entire cast, especially when controversy strikes.  Yair’s experience in the classroom translates to realistic portrayals of troubled teens.  The film is set in the real Asher’s former school, and his actual friends were hired to play his friends on film.  They look the part of oversized kids after having been held back a few years.  Like any kids, they fight, makeup, and then think nothing of hanging out.

Scaffolding holds a double meaning.  The title refers to the blue collar business of erecting scaffolding around buildings for construction work which Asher and his father perform.  But it also possesses an educational meaning which the character of Rami imbues in many scenes with Asher.  Educational scaffolding involves the teacher’s intervening assistance in breaking down lessons into multiple steps and multiple styles to help a student be successful, particularly when a student is first learning a task.  There is no doubt that director Yair is familiar with the concept.  Clearly the young man is under construction, figuring out what kind of man he will be.

Impeccable camera work abounds.  Jump cuts intensify emotional distress, and the camera effortlessly follows Asher’s outbursts.  The jumpy caginess of the camera rushes up to people’s faces, again intensifying emotion.  The film was Israel’s Oscars submission for the Best Foreign film category, however, it was not selected.  It has won several other awards at film festivals and 11 nominations with the Israeli Film Academy including a Best Supporting Actor win for Ari Smolartchik.  It was decorated at the Israel Film Festival with a Best Actor award for Lax.

Hollywood likes everything to be tied up in a bow.  However, that doesn’t happen in this film.  A surprise twist leaves Asher reeling.  The film delights in questioning and wondering what things mean, searching for signs and reasons to the very end, just like one might analyze great literature down to the minutiae.  Some questions don’t have easy answers.

The film is in Hebrew with English subtitles and was selected for the 2018 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, as well as many other film festivals.

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