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Review: ‘Asia,’ a remarkable meditation on dying that is full of life

A mother and her teenage daughter look at themselves in a mirror in the movie "Asia."
After a life-changing development changes everything, a mother (Alena Yiv, left) and daughter (Shira Haas) learn a new way to navigate together in “Asia.”
(Menemsha Films)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

Mother and daughter Asia (Alena Yiv) and Vika (Shira Haas) are more like roommates than family members. Russian immigrants living in Israel, young mom Asia works as a nurse and home health aide, blowing off steam at local bars, while teenage Vika is content to hang with the bong-ripping skater boys. It’s in this easy, yet empty, coexistence that we meet the pair at the beginning of writer-director Ruthy Pribar’s remarkable debut, “Asia.”

This relationship would have proceeded apace if it were not for a debilitating degenerative disease that creeps into Vika’s limbs and body. Her illness goes unnamed in the film but behaves like ALS, slowly robbing Vika of her mobility and abilities, and even more cruelly, the sensual experiences she longs for, snatched away just as her young life was about to evolve. Asia, just 35, can hardly begrudge her own daughter these desires, as she indulges in sex and booze, slipping out to go dancing or for trysts with one of her doctor friends, as a respite from her life caring for those at the end of theirs.

However, as Vika deteriorates, a new intimacy and deep connection blossoms between mother and daughter. They reminisce over early childhood memories and songs, and their relationship becomes truly profound and moving as they learn to move through this new life together.

Haas, who won an Independent Spirit award for her performance in the series “Unorthodox,” is one of the most exciting new acting talents to come along in a long time; as Vika she must physically embody the transition this young girl experiences as her disease takes over. But her costar Yiv, in the titular role, carries the heaviest weight as a mother who essentially has to learn how to mother her own daughter again and finds the joy through the sorrow.

Already an award-winning film in Israel, where it won best picture at the Israeli Academy Awards, Pribar’s humane and heartbreaking drama is beautifully photographed and performed; a loving, warm, and even sexy film about death and dying that is teeming with life.

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‘Asia’

In Hebrew and Russian with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Playing: Starts June 25, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena, Laemmle Town Center, Encino; also available on Laemmle Virtual Cinema


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