Jewish Film Festival: ‘Here We Are’ treats autism with respect

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Spiro Films Rosamont

DAN. BUFFA , SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Aharon (Shai Avivi) is devoted to his young adult son, Uri (Noam Imber). Some would argue he’s too devoted. Uri is autistic and has lived inside a gentle cocoon of routine and comfort, one built with precious care and regard by Aharon. But at what point does the father allow himself some distance between being a caretaker and living the rest of his life with a moderate dose of freedom?

Nir Bergman’s “Here We Are” delicately and intelligently blends the father-son tale with a realistic portrayal of the disorder. From taking extra-large steps to avoid “the snails,” even if they are less common in the summer, to drawing an imaginary button on automatic doors to ensure Uri doesn’t get stuck, Aharon does it all. A graphic designer who shelved his burgeoning career on grounds of personal integrity and in order to care for his son. If they were building the ultimate parent to deal with autism, Aharon would be the poster child. He has amazing patience, doesn’t raise his voice often, and doesn’t forget to make his son pasta stars for dinner. But at some point, the connection has to be broken and the bird must fly away. Bergman’s film, working from an insightful script by Dana Idisis, travels that terrain inside its well-used 90 minutes.

Avivi is simply tremendous as the embattled patriarch. He moves the viewer with only the slightest of facial twitches and emotions, showing us a caretaker who has built a wall of concrete around his son, but one made out of love and devotion. Tough and mobile for an older man, you easily buy into and fall for the daily activities of Aharon and Uri, thanks to the impeccable acting of the two leads. While the supporting cast does credible work, “Here We Are” runs long on the chemistry of Avivi and Umber, who commit fully to their roles.

When Uri’s mother finally gets a spot in a group home for Uri, Aharon finds their carefully constructed world threatened by strangers, so he takes his son off on an unplanned and slightly dangerous road trip instead of to the facility. Look, when you combine father-son stories with a road trip that doesn’t exactly have purpose but allows for the characters and stories to grow, I am all in. But the ability of the director and writer to eschew melodramatic tendencies, instead layering in the details of the characters and their ambitions as the running time stretches, is what pushes this story to rarer ground.

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In order to accomplish that, one must go to uncomfortable areas and “Here We Are” is stuffed with them. From an incident at a train station to the inability to eat fish due to having them as pets, Aharon and Uri navigate the treacherous waters of outside life, and the viewer is right there with him. Any parent of an autistic child can rest assured that this film doesn’t take the reality of the disorder for granted. Heck, St. Louis Blues fans will smile when the father and son start singing, shaving, and dancing to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.”

By the end, when the two characters are merely staring into each other’s eyes trying to notice their respective futures, a few tears will fill your eyes. Due to the incredible restraint of Avivi and the utter brilliance of Imber’s portrayal, you will feel as if you know Aharon and Uri, thus sympathizing with their journey and how it relates to your own. More than anything, “Here We Are” will hopefully remind the masses that being autistic shouldn’t mean one isn’t, or doesn’t get to be, human.


St . Louis Jewish Film Festival

When: June 6-13

Where: Virtual

How much: Tickets for individual films are $14 for the entire household. An All-Access Pass offers all 13 films, plus a bonus short film, for $95 per household.

More info: Tickets and passes can be purchased at stljewishfilmfestival.org. It is recommended to buy tickets early, as the films have a limit at which they are considered sold out. For more information about the festival, call 314-442-3190.