Looking more like sisters than mother and daughter, Asia (Alena Yiv) and Vika (Shira Haas) immigrate to Israel from Russia. There, Asia works as a nurse. Vika hangs out with friends. Continually, Ruthy Pribar’s cinematically intimate feature moves from moment to moment showcasing their lives.
For example, thirty-something, divorced Asia stops at a bar for a drink and a dance. After her hard day nursing, she stays out late to relax. On the other hand, Vika visits the skating park with friends. There, she drinks and smokes.
When both meet in the apartment, we see two women inhabiting the same space. However, they live apart internally. Indeed, teenager Vika appears a younger independent version of her mom. Then a twist sets their course in another direction. Gradually, Pribar drops clues why Vika never smiles nor engages in any interests.
Subsequently, when Asia works on her ward of older patients, she receives a call. Vika’s drinking put her in the hospital. At this juncture we discover the daughter has a congenital condition and alcohol exacerbates it. Can this be the reason why she acts older than her years and rarely smiles?
As Asia chides Vika, we deduce that her condition may be severe. Nevertheless, Vika’s self-possession and reticence push her mother away. She will not readily ask for her help. To cope, Asia seeks to drown herself in the physical embraces of a married doctor, but their coupling in the front seat of a car remains banal and unromantic, and the tryst reveals Asia’s need to escape.
Similarly, Vika’s boredom makes her seek out a young man for sex. When she invites him over, they drink. She endangers herself to get the courage to be with him. However, she remains frozen to his advances. On his way out he demeans her as a virgin.
Both women on parallel tracks cannot find fulfillment with a man in their sphere. Thus, their alienation and displacement with men grows. Despite this, Asia finds a viable way to reach out to her daughter. As Vika’s condition worsens, they become closer.
Pribar, who writes and directs, establishes their relationship concisely. They represent two opposing forces who gradually come together in a common cause. Eventually, they agree with one mind, one perspective. Their stresses give way to healing and nurturing. As Asia finds a way to stay with her daughter through medical trials, their emotional closeness evolves.
The mystery about Vika remains the key focus of the film. By degrees, Pribar, with flat lighting and washed out design colors (hospital, their apartment) frames the action. Cleverly, the acute acting and thoughtful cinematography make the simplicity of events compelling. This intimate look into how Asia and Vika cope with the inevitable is relatable. Thus, the themes about caring for another, courage, and love come to the fore.
Because of the phenomenal low-key, spot-on performances by Alena Yiv and Shira Haas, the bonds between mother and daughter develop with authenticity. Pribar’s direction is beautifully spare, and the minimalistic dialogue deepens the poignancy of this drama about love and letting go.
For her debut feature, Ruthy Pribar won the Nora Ephron Award at Tribeca. Her revelation of these women retains interest in its profound beauty of feeling.
For her performance, Shira Haas as Vika won the Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature. A panel jurist stated this about her portrayal. “Her face is a never-ending landscape in which even the tiniest expression is heartbreaking.” Last, Daniella Nowitz won Tribeca’s award for Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature.
Clearly, Asia is a film to look out for. It’s rich emotional textures about the boundaries in our relationships as we learn to love are breathtaking.