Ruthy Pribar’s debut feature film, Asia, which opens in theatres in Ontario on October 1, is a somber and affecting portrait of a mother and her daughter grasping for companionship, love and fulfillment. It unfolds over a short period of time in Jerusalem.
Asia (Alena Yiv) and her daughter, Vika (Shira Haas), share a modest apartment in the wooded hills of Israel’s capital. Asia’s husband has disappeared from the picture and goes mostly unmentioned. Asia, a Russian-born hospital nurse, and Vika, a student, have been fending for themselves ever since.
An attractive woman in her mid-30s, she frequents bars, where she nurses drinks and consorts with men. Once in a while, she meets a married doctor and has sex with him in a car.
Vika, who suffers from an unknown ailment, makes out with a young man, but won’t go all the way. As Vika’s health worsens, a physician who examines her issues a grim diagnosis. Her motor skills have deteriorated so much that her breathing may be affected in the near future.
“I’m going to die a virgin,” Vika laments during the course of a brief vacation at a Dead Sea hotel.
Asia, having been burned by relationships in the past, offers a consoling comment. “The only thing I ever got from a man was you,” she says.
Although Asia and Vika are close, they sometimes clash. Asia is concerned that Vika is jeopardizing her fragile health by drinking. Asia is upset by her failure to please Vika. Yiv and Haas turn in plausible performances in this relentlessly intense and melancholic film.
When Vika is admitted to a hospital, Asia is constantly at her bedside, taking time off work to tend to her needs. When Vika goes back home, Asia hires a male nurse to look after her while she’s working. Vika likes her caregiver, Gabi, whose Arab name is Jaber.
Sensing that Vika’s health is going south, Asia tells Gabi that Vika wants to lose her virginity. He understands Asia’s veiled message and tries to act on it.
As Vika’s condition gets worse, Asia prepares for what may be a worst-case scenario.
Pribar pulls no punches as Asia and Vika attempt to deal with a situation from which there is no turning back. Pribar’s movie cannot be classified as entertainment per se, but it is often riveting, searing and infinitely sad.