Asia (4 stars)

Asia

Unorthodox's Shira Haas stars in this touching Israeli drama from Ruthy Pribar

Hardworking single mum Asia (Alena Yiv) struggles to spend the time with her teenage daughter Vika that she might like; between her long shifts as a nurse and Vika's attempts to live a normal teenage life, they are like ships passing.

Vika is played by Shira Haas, who recently rose to international fame in Netflix series Unorthodox, for which she was nominated for an Emmy. She and Yiv form a beautifully plausible partnership in an Israeli drama from writer-director Ruthy Pribar, that treads ever so gently as it approaches a truly tragic situation.

35-year-old Russian immigrant Asia had her daughter young and admits motherhood is not what she hoped it would be. She has all the demands that come with her profession but also the resilience and good humour, while socially and romantically is able to be a lot more carefree than Vika, who carries the burden of a degenerative medical condition, which is on the cusp of becoming a serious problem. Vika and her best pal (Eden Halili) hang out trying to chat up skater boys, but the pressure to drink and have sex causes her discomfort. Asia, on the other hand, lets off steam through hook-ups with colleagues and strangers, her casually flirtatious manner indicating that she's pretty seasoned on the scene.

Asia was the winner of three awards at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, including the Nora Ephron Prize, awarded to outstanding female filmmakers. That two people can be each other's world whilst barely even sharing the same space is deftly communicated, the depth of their love revealed when times get tough. A commercial film would milk every ounce of sadness from the scenario, but Asia goes against the grain in showing the women's strength and refusing to spell out the obvious.

Filling in backstory in a way that feels natural, if a tad frustrating, the pair's trials are delicately rendered by cinematographer Daniella Nowitz, as we see the automated actions of Asia's punishing routine, with her worry communicated in faraway glances. 'Things can only get better,' she half laughs at a particularly low point. Although we glimpse her being ratty with a patient, there's never a suggestion of Asia burning out or giving up – it simply isn't an option. It's a small story of ordinary people up against it, but an incredibly touching one.

Available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 20 Nov.

Asia

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • Israel
  • 1h 25min
  • Directed by: Ruthy Pribar
  • Cast: Alena Yiv, Shira Haas

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