Review: Scaffolding // Pigumim (2017)

Matan Yair’s Scaffolding is an intimate, gripping feature debut on the pains of adult masculinity.  It follows Asher, an impulsive Israeli teenager struggling with his matriculation examinations, forced to choose between two male role models – his working class, strict father and his literature teacher. 

At the 28th Singapore International Film Festival 2017, the film was nominated for the Best Asian Feature Film and received a Special Mention Award from the Jury. 

This social realist drama explores Israel’s working class and feels instantly authentic as Matan Yair draws on his personal experiences as a high school teacher for students with troubled backgrounds. Leading actor Asher too is a former student who plays a character largely based on himselfbut he shows no indication of amateurism. He easily exudes a prickly and sometimes violent young man, that one could easily see is on the periphery of a criminal life, and as such following closely in his father’s footsteps. Meanwhile his teacher Rami, played by Ami Smolarchik is a polar opposite, showing a great deal of sensitivity and depth as they form a beautiful kinship and Rami finds ample opportunity to widen Asher’s perspective and future possibilities.  

Asher becomes drawn to the charismatic Rami when he teaches an advanced class on poetry in the library and asking the students to write questions they would want to ask their parents. Drawn in, he wonders why his class of kids do not have classes in the library at school or given such assignments. He then begins learning in earnest and yet, realistically we also understand that working-class kids such as Asher are unlikely to use their education after attaining the diploma, regardless of how inspirational the teachers may be. However, the pressure to follow his father’s construction company is neither portrayed as a lesser option either.  

We are not led to believe that Asher will evolve into an intellectual nor does it lead us to believe he will begrudgingly take over his father’s working-class company against his wishes. And that tension between the two worlds is the ultimate strength of the film. 
The film is not interested in taking sides and the incidents that occur within the film feel organic, sudden and yet somehow inevitable. All of them however, forces Asher to grow up as fast as possible and you feel for him every second of the way through. Every decision then becomes painful for the audience who understands the permanent consequences and irrevocable repercussions his choices will have. 

The film does immediately feel a little cliché in terms of its mechanics. Any protagonist-teacher story conjures Dead Poets Society for good or bad. Furthermore, as it is a literature class, the references do somewhat feel a little heavy handed with in class studies of Greek tragedies and Chekov, conveniently mirroring Asher’s internal struggles. At that point, Ami’s character does fall into the trap of simply expounding exposition.  

And whilst that is on the nose, the film somehow still tackles the issue of adult masculinity and class system without ever feeling preachy. Certainly it is a great feat as the film still feels all about the characters lives than a pointed theme, though it is easily evident. Scaffolding is a strong film from which one hopes the director and leading actor can carry on, having now made themselves a firm foundation to build on. 

Review by Rifyal GIffari
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