One of the digital releases from Tribeca 2020, Asia is charming to a fault. Two great performances aren’t enough to save the film from being mundane. Premiering in the digital version of the Tribeca Film Festival, Asia is a deeply emotional but sometimes overwrought drama that displays what Tribeca does best. Tribeca often plays host to some of the more unique foreign and independent films America can provide. In that sense, Asia is the perfect Tribeca film. An Israeli drama directed by a woman about a Russian mother-daughter pair, Asia is an in-depth portrait of family life. But by the end of the 85-minute runtime, I expected something a lot more incisive.
Asia stars Alena Yiv as the titular Asia, a mother in her mid-30s to a daughter in her late teens. When the rebellious daughter Vika (Shira Haas) begins to show symptoms of a debilitating disease. Asia and Vika’s closeness in age has resulted in a very complex relationship between the two women, especially with Asia’s demanding job as a nurse. Added to that, Asia moved herself and her daughter from Russia years prior, partly for work and also because of Vika’s father’s negligence. Yet everything changes when Vika begins to get sick.
From here Asia moves into increasingly emotional territory. Vika’s sickness debilitates her slowly taking away many functions. She can’t walk, can’t breathe properly, and Asia needs to balance her nursing of others at a hospital with nursing her daughter. It’s intense and heartfelt, but there is not nearly enough plot to stand up against other similar films. For example, Babyteeth, which premieres later this year online instead of in theaters, is a similar story of a young woman’s chronic illness. However, that movie focuses on multiple intersecting plotlines instead of just one bond. That said, the bond between Vica and Asia is amazingly portrayed.
Alana Yiv and Shira Haas both deliver excellent performances. In fact, Haas herself won an award from the Tribeca Film Festival for her performance in Asia. Both deserve all the accolades they can get, and the film leaves me wanting far more from both. Director Ruthy Pribar demonstrates an outstanding talent for capturing talent. I’m excited to see what comes next from her. Considering that Yiv and Haas both perform in Russian and Hebrew dialogues and perfect their excellent performances with one another, it’s a smashing success. But Asia remains plot-lite and melodramatic.
With Tribeca premiering films online, Asia has something for every fan of independent cinema. But at times it almost feels like it was engineered for an emotional outpouring. It achieves that, but it almost works too well.
Asia had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. It will likely be online by the end of the year.