Asia

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Asia
"First-time feature director Ruthy Pribar takes a loose and intimate approach to the relationship, allowing it to unfold in moments." | Photo: Daniella Nowitz

When we first meet Asia (Alena Yiv) and Vika (Shira Haas) it's tricky to tell who is the mum and who the daughter - they seem more like sisters. If anything, Asia appears to be the chief risk-taker, with her clubbing flirtations and sexual assignations in a car with a married colleague (Gera Sandler). Seventeen-year-old Vika maybe hanging out with her pals and experimenting with drink and drugs, but she's altogether more hesitant in her approach than her mother.

There's an air of something slightly desperate about Asia, accumulated, presumably, down the years as she imagined everything others were doing that she has missed out on while being a young mum to Vika. It's coupled with a sense of longing, a desire for connection, not just in terms of romance, but also with her daughter, with whom she has only the most terse interactions.

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First-time feature director Ruthy Pribar takes a loose and intimate approach to the relationship, allowing it to unfold in moments - a shared cup of soup here, a sudden foray into conversation there - as she gradually reveals that Vika is suffering from a degenerative disease. Where other directors might have leaned into this aspect for its sentiment, Pribar takes a much more subtle tack, allowing the sense of uncertainty about the progression of the illness to permeate the film as it also begins to make its presence felt in the mother/daughter relationship.

Physically, Vika begins to need increasing amounts of help but it is the emotional connection between her ad her mum that we see come to the fore as Pribar studies both characters with equal scrutiny. The women are allowed to be complex and difficult, with Asia's initial attempts at a ceasefire with Vika too self-centred for success. Vika, meanwhile, is never shown as a victim, as Pribar explores how difficult it can be to sustain your own personal rebellion when your body is undertaking a mutiny of its own. This may be a sort of coming-of-age for Vika but it's also as much a coming-of-maturity for Asia and a reconciliation with loss for both.

Hass (who also stars in recent Netflix series Unorthodox) won the acting gong at Tribeca and it could just as easily have gone to Yiv, as both bring intensity and nuance to the relationship. They're given space to do that with Pribar's spare script that places as much important on physical acts such as the application of make-up or nail varnish as it does on dialogue. Even the inclusion of a potential love interest (Tamir Mula, matching the female stars step for step) is handled in a multi-faceted and pared back way, that allows it to take on significance in the wider scheme of things beyond a simple will they/won't they equation. By the end, there's no place for melodrama, only acts of love.

Reviewed on: 12 May 2020
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A mum tries to reconnect with her daughter as the younger woman struggles with a degenerative illness.

Festivals:

Tribeca 2020

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