Middle East

Here We Are review – superb performances and insight in Israeli autism drama

Moving but unsentimental, this Israeli drama is a perfect example of how a cinematic story becomes paradoxically more universal by being very specific about people and places. It explores an intense relationship between father Aharon (Shai Avivi) and his son Uri (Noam Imber), a young man in his 20s; although the word autism barely features here, or at least not in the English subtitles, it’s starkly obvious that Uri is on the spectrum. He can speak, but he’s very attached to his routines, resistant to eat much apart from pasta stars and obsessed with watching Charlie Chaplin films on his portable DVD player; he must have his dad around to help him navigate the world at all times lest there’s any danger he might, for example, step on a snail, a prospect that completely terrifies him, or in case he’s not sure if someone has made a joke.

Although the dialogue only skims these characters’ backstories, it soon becomes clear that Aharon, once a successful graphic designer, has essentially turned taking care of Uri into his life’s work, to the point where both men are entirely interdependent on each other. Uri’s mother Tamara (Smadi Wolfman) doesn’t live with them any more, but arguably she can see more clearly than Aharon that Uri needs to be around peers and learn how to live semi-independently, if only to help him prepare for a time when Aharon and Tamara themselves won’t be around. She has found an assisted living facility that’s willing to take Uri in, but it’s really Aharon who can’t let go; and the two of them end up on the run, or as much on the run as you can be in a country as tiny as Israel.

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Screenwriter Dana Idisis has reportedly drawn on personal experience and previously explored the theme in a series called On the Spectrum for Israeli TV, which Here We Are’s director Nir Bergman worked on as well. (Bergman was also one of the key contributors to BeTipul, the Israeli-made original of In Treatment.) That first-hand experience of living with someone on the spectrum is palpable not just in the depiction of Uri himself – superbly performed by Imber – but in the way the rest of the world itself reacts to autistic people: from the well-meaning acquaintances who assume he must be able to do Rain Man-style maths tricks, to the disgusted expressions from bystanders who look on disapprovingly when Uri has a meltdown on the street, wailing and flailing in despair.

The last half hour, so finely underplayed, is quietly devastating.

Here We Are is released on 23 July in cinemas.


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