Mother-daughter relationships are traditionally strained during the teenage years; the daughter acts out to carve her own space and identity away from the overbearing mum. How does this evolution change when the daughter has a life-threatening degenerative disease? Ruthy Pribar attempts to answer this thorny question in her feature debut Asia.
The eponymous character (Alena Yiv) is a Russian immigrant who moved to Israel with her then-infant daughter, Kiva (Shira Haas), to start a new life. Now she works long shifts as a nurse and picks up extra work helping senior citizens to support her and Kiva. Kiva is a precocious, curious soul who wants to get the most out of her experience of life, despite her illness. She hangs out at skate parks, drinking alcohol even though it sends her into debilitating shock, and lusting after older boys even though they are repulsed by her disease.
Visually, Pribar reaches for the pared-down realism of the Dardenne brothers but the cinematography often ends up trying too hard to force symbolism in its composition, and breaks the illusion of reality. The cyan and orange colour grade renders the aesthetic dated.
Chemistry between the leads is vibrant and anchors the plot poignantly, but what makes Asia special is Alena Yiv’s stunning performance. She deftly personifies an adventurous woman who struggles with motherhood. When Vika has a turn for the worse in the second act and starts losing grip on life, Haas and Yiv transform their characters, digging deep into the raw emotion of fighting terminal illness.
Director Ruthy Pribar plays a game of risk, as the “Hallmark” teen-death genre is ripe with clichés that threaten to plunge the film into sentimentality. There are some strong deviations away from the obvious, but then there are a lot of plot elements and scenes that seem so derivative and familiar that the audience is impeded from really sinking into the narrative. The open-ended finish comes too soon and the brisk conclusion dashes momentum just as the film is finding its feet.
Asia is a poignant character study of a mother-daughter relationship under the additional pressure of the suffering caused by serious illness. The electrifying performances from both actresses grab the audience’s attention and don’t let go. Unfortunately, the narrative fails to match the work of the actors to break the shackles of convention.
Asia is released in select cinemas on 20th November 2020.
Watch the trailer for Asia here: