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Review: Israeli drama 'Scaffolding' zeroes in on student's challenges

Review: Israeli drama 'Scaffolding' zeroes in on student's challenges
Asher Lax in the movie "Scaffolding." (Breaking Glass Pictures)

A movie whose title has all kinds of literal and physical meaning to its story, the small-bore Israeli drama “Scaffolding” is about a quick-tempered, disruptive, working-class 17-year-old torn between the challenge of passing high school and his severe father’s desire that he ignore school and take over the family business.

Writer-director Matan Yair was inspired by his own experiences teaching difficult students from homes where education isn’t valued. He even cast one of his former charges, Asher Lax, as the film’s similarly named protagonist, a sensitive hothead who responds positively to the firm but sympathetic attention given to him by his thoughtful literature instructor Rami (Ami Smolartchik), a far cry from how he’s treated at home by his cynical, abusive divorced dad, Milo (a powerful Yaacov Cohen).

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Though the film’s structure is a tad schematic — Asher’s all-important matriculation exam happens at the same time his father is having major surgery — it’s a fully absorbing character study of who the system is most likely to fail when promise is stoked, but not followed through on.

Reminiscent of the naturalistic social dramas made by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, “Scaffolding” combines the nervous tension of a thriller about a bomb waiting to go off — Lax’s volatility is as nail-biting as his bursts of compassion are relief-inducing — and the mournful clarity of a fly-on-the-wall documentary about troubled students.

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‘Scaffolding’

In Hebrew with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 5, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; Laemmle Town Center, Encino

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