Although the Tribeca Film Festival has been indefinitely postponed, several films that were scheduled to screen at the event have been made available to critics for screening.
The plot of Asia, from Israeli writer/director Ruthy Pribar, seems almost so slight at first, that it sneaks up on you.
Asia (Alena Yiv), is a single mother who immigrated from Russia to Israel, where she works as a nurse. She doesn’t seem very happy with her life, and she tries to blunt that unhappiness with nights out on the town, drinking and dancing at clubs and the occasional frenzied tryst with a married coworker in the backseat of his car. Her daughter Vika, (Shira Haas of Netflix’s Unorthodox) is left on her own much of the time, which she feels by hanging out with friends at the local skate park. We only find out that Vika is suffering from a potentially terminal disease when she drinks too much at a party, triggering a seizure that lands her in the hospital.
Admittedly, this does sound like the setup to a number of dying teenager melodramas like The Fault In Our Stars or indie-bait Me And Earl And The Dying Girl. But Pribar seems far more interested in the characters’ inner lives than in presenting an emotionally manipulative, overly sentimentalized story, perhaps knowing that the truth of the characters’ lives will generate a more emotionally honest reaction from the audience. The story may be familiar in broad strokes, but the approach is fresh and all the more effective for that. She also invests a large amount of trust in her two lead actors, allowing them long takes to play out their interaction uninterrupted, rather than building their performances in editing. Surrendering that amount of control is a gutsy move for a freshman feature director, but it absolutely pays off here as both Yiv and Haas give raw, uncompromising performances here. The audiences’ tears aren’t jerked out of them, they are beautifully earned.
Another interesting aspect is how how Pribar draws both interesting parallels and contrasts to the various things Asia is going through around her. Asia knows her appetites and why she indulges them while Vika remains tentative about steps towards wanting to loose her virginity. (It is a desire which she will reconcile with late in the film.) While Vika is in the early stages of her illness, Asia helps an elderly neighbors care worker with their care, a foreshadowing of the help she will need with Vika in the future. And as Vika’s illness progresses, Asia sees her daughter being denied the better future she wished for her that she never had when she had become a mother at a young age.