“Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.” — Paul McCartney, “Blackbird”
For most parents, the process of letting go of grown children is difficult under normal circumstances, but for children with special needs, it can be a daunting challenge. In his fifth feature film, Here We Are (Hine Anachnu), Israeli director Nir Bergman (“Saving Neta”) focuses on the co-dependent relationship between Aharon (Shai Avivi, “Losing Alice” TV series), a separated father in his fifties, and his autistic son Uri (Noam Imber, “Beyond the Mountains and Hills”), a young man who is unable to care for himself. Written by Dana Idisis (“On the Spectrum” TV series), the film received eight Ophir (Israeli Oscars) nominations including Best Film and would have been Bergman’s first film to be shown at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, but, unfortunately, it was canceled due to the pandemic.
More than 6-feet tall, Uri looks like a typical college freshman but his interests are limited to taking care of his fish, eating pasta stars, and obsessively watching Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid.” His typical response to questions from his father is to repeat the question, substituting “I” for “you.” Retreating from the outside world, Aharon has given up his career as an artist to devote his life to the care of his son, but must deal with his wife Tamara’s (Smadi Wolfman, “Head Above Water”) wishes that Uri should be in a boarding school for special needs students where he can socialize and learn to be independent.
Aharon is convinced, however, that the boy needs more time to adjust to the idea of leaving and that he is the only one that can provide the loving care his son needs. There is no discussion of other options such as in-home care by a trained professional. While arrangements have been made for Uri to move to an institutional setting, he clings to his dad and refuses to leave. Ultimately, however, Aharon gives in to his wife’s desires and the wishes of a single-minded social worker, but Uri’s temper tantrums and an outburst at the facility ends up with a broken window in the spirit of Charlie Chaplin “The Kid.”
Feeling the need to get away, Aharon and Uri embark on a road trip across Israel, visiting Haifa, Bee’r Sheva, Eilat, Tel Aviv and other small cities along the way and the film becomes an insightful coming-of-age experience for both father and son, even though Aharon is more than fifty years old. Though a proposed trip to a farm in Pennsylvania comes up as empty as Aharon’s wallet, Bergman declared, “I love the characters, the relationships, the way Aharon has reduced his needs to accommodate his son’s, and the transformation they experience throughout their journey.” One of the most engaging scenes takes place in a club where Uri wanders off by himself.
When his father finds him on the dance floor rocking to the sounds of “Gloria”, the old Laura Branigan song from the 1980s, he lets go and begins dancing with Uri. Things get out of hand, however, when Uri steals a Popsicle and Aharon, unable to pay the vendor, gets into a fight which lands him in jail until he is bailed out by his brother. Here We Are is a poignant and moving story of a father’s love for his son and his unwillingness to face the fact of his son’s growing need for some independence and his own aging process.
Noam Imber is thoroughly convincing in the role of Uri and his performance is so real that it often feels like a documentary while Avivi handles the role of his father with grace and sensitivity. Though the story may not sound uplifting, in Bergman’s skillful hands, its sadness is balanced with humor and buoyed by the strength and dignity of its characters. As reported in “The Jewish Independent,” Bergman said “If I’m able to convey these characters as they are, from the written page to the screen, together with the bittersweet and humorous tone of the script, the audience will also fall in love with them.” He has succeeded in his wish.