Review by Sean Boelman
The directorial debut of Ruthy Pribar, Asia is a new Israeli character drama that addresses some unexpected topics. And even though the film’s syncretism of different genres doesn’t always pay off, there are some really interesting things happening here that make it a very involving and compelling watch.
The movie follows a young mother and her teenage daughter as they are drawn closer together when the daughter experiences medical issues that send her on a journey of self-discovery. A blend of coming-of-age tropes and tear-jerking “sick kid” clichés, the film barely treads the line between touching and overly sentimental.
Without a doubt, the first half act of the movie is far more interesting than the second and third. Pribar’s script becomes a lot more conventional as it progresses, and while it still has some emotional impact towards the end, the middle section falls flat more often than not. A few of the character arcs that are set up in the beginning of the film don’t pay off by the end.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the movie is that it doesn’t fully develop its protagonist. Her daughter has the much more interesting arc in the film, but there was even more potential in regards to her story as a young mother experiencing these issues with her daughter at the age she was when she had her.
That said, the relationship between the two characters is very interesting, although there could have been more development in this department as well. Unfortunately, the direction that this arc takes in the final third is one of the more frustrating things about the movie, as it counteracts a lot of the emotional substance from earlier.
Alena Yiv and Shira Haas both give excellent performances and have superb chemistry together. Yiv is perhaps the more impressive of the two, bringing a lot to the table in terms of empathy. Haas’s performance is also surprisingly grounded given the tricky material she was given.
Stylistically, the film has a very down-to-earth feel to it and that helps it counteract some of the melodrama of the script. The cinematography and production design are both very muted, giving the movie an understated but admirably realistic feel that makes it hit all the more on an emotional level.
Asia does feel a tad bit underbaked at times, but thanks to strong performances and interesting ideas, it’s consistently very interesting. It’s a very effective and crowd-pleasing film that may struggle to find eyes in the changing cinema landscape.
Asia was set to debut at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.