Scaffolding is a well-made, thought-out piece of work, but it lacks the gravitas needed to turn a true-life story into a gripping piece of cinema.
Asher Lax stars as Asher Lax, a troubled teenager living with his father Milo, who owns a scaffolding business. Asher is in his final year of high school, in a ‘troubled class’, and has dreams of becoming a student of literature and history – but his temper and circumstances often get in the way. Only Rami, his quiet and methodical teacher, has a chance at changing his life for the better. Scaffolding is largely the story of the relationship between the teacher and his student; as well as that between a domineering father and his son.
incredibly impressive is the standard of acting: the lead trio all put in exceptional performances
The problem here is that Scaffolding had little to engage me with. Asher is quite a dislikeable character: even if we feel sorry for him a lot of the time, he keeps making aggressive mistakes and never learns from his actions. Of course, this isn’t an unrealistic situation, but that also doesn’t mean that it’s a-priori compelling. I’m not calling it boring – I wasn’t yawning or checking my watch throughout – but it doesn’t have the flair or the energy needed to create something truly remarkable. To his credit, Matan Yair does the best he can with this material: it’s not a story ripe for dramatic interpretation, and other directors would presumably have fallen much harder if asked to complete the same task.
What is incredibly impressive is the standard of acting: the lead trio all put in exceptional performances. Asher, as a real-life student of the director and a first-time actor, is an absolute revelation in the leading role. His vulnerability, anger, and internal conflict are all visible just by looking into his eyes – I was exceptionally surprised to learn it was his maiden voyage in the profession. Ami Smolarchik is also incredible as the polar opposite: the sensitive teacher. Again, there’s a lot of internal conflict in this character, and the understated way with which Smolarchik carries himself in all his scenes, complete with the physical display of vulnerability, is remarkable. Lastly, but by no means least, Yaacov Cohen is impressive as the domineering yet weak father – by turns supportive and kind; but then tragically oppressive the next sentence. The duelling that goes on between Rami and Milo for Asher’s heart is, I believe, the heart of the film, and the thing that keeps us watching until the end.
Scaffolding has the best of intentions, and is undoubtably skilful in its execution
Visually, Scaffolding has nothing in particular to offer, but it also has nothing to admonish either. Yair shoots in a washed-out style similar to Manchester by the Sea, complementing both the social realism of the story, and the Israeli setting which it inhabits. The sound design is similarly minimalist, reflecting the true-to-life ambitions that the film has. The lack of artifice, again, cannot be scolded as if there has been some sort of mistake by the director – but it doesn’t help the case that the entire affair is rather forgettable despite its considerable skill.
Ultimately, Scaffolding has the best of intentions, and is undoubtably skilful in its execution, but it’s a little bit too beige to truly make an impact on its audience. It’s a true-life story for its director, which may explain the singular commitment to a reasonably unremarkable tale, but for those unconnected with the themes running through it, the entire experience may fall flat. Fans of slow, methodical character studies may find much to like here: the acting is first class, and the pacing is simply fantastic, but for the majority, Scaffolding is as its name suggests: a skeleton.
‘Scaffolding’ is now playing at the Raindance Film Festival 2017, taking place from 20th September to 1st October. Information and tickets here.