Asia

 

starstarstarstar

 


A striking first feature with acting of the highest quality.

 
Asia

Alena Yiv

 

Hollywood has always been ready to pamper those audiences who like to go to the cinema to enjoy a good cry. The genre by which such movies are known, 'weepies', is in itself indicative of the likelihood that such films will be over-indulgently sentimental. Currently the most popular trope within the genre is centred on somebody destined to die young. Tales of this kind, usually ones that tell a love story in which one of the lovers is suffering from a fatal illness, can on occasion evade the trap of banal sentimentality, but that requires skill.

 

Asia, a debut feature from Israel by writer/director Ruthy Pribar, does indeed have as one of its two central characters a 17-year-old girl named Vika (Shira Haas) who learns early on in the film that suffering from muscular dystrophy she now has only a short time to live. But any expectations that arise from those genre associations can on this occasion be put to one side. Asia is in any case a film that breaks with that formula by placing at its centre not two young lovers but the bond between Vika and her mother, Asia, played by Alena Yiv. Even more importantly, both the quality of the writing and that of the filmmaking make this a work of real distinction.

 

For the most part Asia is set in Jerusalem and Pribar shows remarkable assurance in the way that she lets the tale unfold in a manner that seems entirely life-like. At the outset it is established that Asia, a single mother, works in a hospital and lives with her daughter who frequents a skate park with her friend Natalie (Eden Halili). These scenes gain much from being unforced and in consequence feeling so natural. It means that we are immediately drawn into their lives and Pribar is equally adroit in presenting this mother-daughter relationship as a sound one while yet including moments when they rub one another up the wrong way. This ensures that the portrayal never feels too good to be true. Similarly, the decision to use limited background music adds to the sense of realism that characterises the film. This tone is maintained after the doctor's diagnosis leading as it does to Vika having to be treated in a hospital although she is then able to return home albeit in a wheelchair.

 

When a young hospital orderly, Gabi (Tamur Mula), takes on a caring role for Vika at home, the film does play with the possibility of his becoming Vika's lover, but both this and Asia's involvement with a married doctor (Gera Sandler) are kept as distinctly subsidiary issues. The mother-daughter relationship remains central to the film and calls forth two magnificent performances from Yiv and Haas. Far from being a maudlin work, this film is sensitive and acute and I would recommend it to anybody who finds the prospect of it appealing. Nevertheless, a question-mark hovers over it: in the age of Covid-19 how many of us would choose to see a work that in being true to itself cannot avoid being downbeat?

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Alena Yiv, Shira Haas, Tamir Mula, Gera Sandler, Eden Halili, Or Barak, Nadia Tichonova, Mirna Fridman, Tatiana Machlinovski, Evgeny Tarlatzky, Liran David.

 

Dir Ruthy Pribar, Pro Yoav Roeh and Aurit Zamir, Screenplay Ruthy Pribar, Ph Daniella Nowitz, Ed Neta Dvorkis, Music Karni Postel, Costumes Inbal Shuki.

 

Gum Films-Curzon.
85 mins. Israel. 2020. Rel: 20 November 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.