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  • Hooman Razavi

Asia: The Tale Of Motherhood | 2020 Tribeca Film Festival

By: Hooman Razavi

“Mom, thank you for being anchor in this stormy sea of life.” This quote may seem very intuitive and rosy but in the real-life family relationships are more complicated. Asia directed by Israeli filmmaker Ruthy Pribar, who also directed Last Calls depicts the complexity of one such family and how the mother-daughter relationship evolves throughout the course of the film. The event takes place in modern Israeli society and it meditates on the other layers and issues facing this single-parent family and broader society.

Asia (Alena Yiv) is a single mother who lives with Vika (Shira Haas) in modern-day Israel. She works as a nurse, search for rekindling a relationship in her life and more importantly be a good mother for Vika. In parallel, Vika, in her teenage years, is inquisitive and wants to explore relationship and intimacy with someone among her circles. She trusts and mistrusts her mother and she also suffers from a degenerative illness affecting her movement and health. Asia and Vika, through interactions with other actors and minor characters in the story, get closers together as Vika’s health situation getting worse. In the end, she may not have found the illusionary love, but she has finally connected with her mother. Formalistic Analysis The film is masterfully shot, in such as way that form and thematic points are excellently interwoven. The opening scene shows Asia in the bar dancing. This start is very Dionysian and there are hints in the story that in Asia’s deeper character such tendency is embedded. This scene is followed in the rest of the film with very Apollonian scenes in a progression that beautifully shows the extent of mother-daughter relationship. The many two-shot frames including in the kitchen, hospital bed, terrace, living room and bed room show the extent of camera’s attention to Asia and Vika. They are in a sense inseparable as expected. But these shots are sometimes get interrupted by male characters who enter either into Vika or Asia’s lives, though temporarily. Interestingly, towards the end of the film the two shots persist but camera focus gets closers and close-up and extreme close-up dominates, which shows that the tragic ending is accompanied with physical proximity, highlighted formalistically.

The other interesting features to point out is the interior shots are against exterior shots. Most scenes are shot inside the house, in the car and claustrophobic hospital space. Once again, the space controls the narrative. Conversely, few exterior shots such as the park scene, terrace scene and smoking scenes highlight the freedom that these characters especially mother and Vika found and the fleeting pleasure. In addition, the camera and editing sometimes in way surprise and make the viewer to think deeper about the duo relationships. In one scene, after Vika warms up to one of the boys whom she finally can’t have sex with, the next superimposed shot is mother’s sexual affair with Stas (the doctor character). In another scene, in which both Asia and Vika are in hospital bed, the camera shows a point of view shot that shows two young doctors; the question remains who is desiring for the young flesh, Vika or Asia- it is an open question and another example of formalistic innovations.

Analysis & Interpretation The title arose curiosity in the viewer as some signs of reference to Asia. The viewer may see the Pilipino caretaker and finally attempts to uncover the secret behind the movie title. However, more than merely being a name chosen, Asia may signify an extended meaning of motherhood, as mothers have no borders including one who could live in Israel but could be born in Asia. The film also portrays three mothers in major and minor characters.

It can be argued that Pribar’s Asia’s characterization strategy as a leading mother who is constantly under pressure and tested, but any mother including Pilipino lady and Asia’s mother could have gone through the same experience; the scene in the shower and watching all three in the same frame may validate this view. The daughter-mother relationship also takes a center stage; and apart from the formalistic aspects discussed, one can see the tension in the relationship to be driven sexually with many scenes hinting to this feature. From the onset, one can see that Vika is suspicious of Asia. She senses that Asia comes home late and lies. Asia is also worried about Vika but in a protective way. Vika shows inaptitude to approach who she likes and enjoy the sexual fulfillment, but she is not afraid to seek her mother’s support. On the other hand, Asia who seems sexually and emotionally suppressed, even though finding a good partner in her Stas, but she seems at least ambivalent towards her daughter libido drive. In one scene she is agitated to Vika being disoriented after the failure of sexual affair, but in the other scene she jokingly embarrasses her in the bar. These tensions could be explained based on an understanding of Freudian Electra-complex. One may argue that the father figure is absent in the story, but the tension between Asia and Vika persists anyway. Even Gabi (hospital assistant) who comes home to help Vika seems to be controlled emotionally by Asia. Therefore, one can argue that the competition never persists, and the erotic may only be extinguished if one character is gone, which happens at the end of the story. In a sense, Asia as much as wanted Vika not to stay a virgin, but her motherhood and decisions eventually leads to it.

Additionally, this issue can make us to think about the role of body and its representation in the film. Vika seems healthy at the beginning, and one viewer can get a sense that as her intimate life fails her, she suffers physically too. Ironically, despite physical degeneration, she remains mentally sharp and even refuse a long-sought consummation with Gabi, knowing his intentions. The interpretation of this aspect can lead us to think about mind-body duality question dominating philosophers of all ages. Are mind and body one unit, do they need or reinforce each other? Can one live without the other? Vika’s struggles and character’s development hint at a position that not downplays the role body but sees it as not necessarily primal in our subjective experience. The counter to this argument could be seen in a few shots that Vika’s hands or Asia and Vika’s hands were shown together, that could mean the attachment through this act of physical proximity. In brief, Vika may be in life support and close to her finish line, but mentally she persevered and triumphed over her ideals. The other dimensions that are noteworthy are the layers that the film exposes about the Israeli society. In one scene, Vika’s new friend, make a comment that “your house looks very Russian”. In another scene, the viewers can be perplexed to see a Pilipino caretaker in Israel. Next, in the beach scene, Vika makes the comment that she does not want to see a beach full of older people as in Jerusalem. The ageism, racism and immigrant issues that Asia aptly portray are subtle, but well interwoven in the main plot showing along with Vika and Asia relationship maturation. In addition, the viewer may get a sense that Israeli society seems to be suffering a crisis of meaning as exemplified through the character of Stas, whom Asia trust and bond, but seems to be suffering from a genuine relationship the same way that the old patients in the film suffer from company in their last days. Final Thoughts Ruthy Pribar, in her first long feature, has decently depicted a single-parent family and the struggles of Asia and Vika to forge a sustainable relationship in the context of Israeli immigrant middle-class society; so, the ebbs and flows are evident and well portrayed formalistically and narratively.

Throughout the course of the film, the audience can clearly realize the driver of this complex mother-daughter relationship is more than motherly love and thanatos drive is alive and as strongly dominant. The film title may only single Asia out, but Asia’s subjectivity cannot be complete without Vika who finally succumb to the destiny she avoided horribly. Grade: A


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