In the opening moments of “Asia”, a young woman dances and shoots down shots in a crowded, neon-lit bar. You might be surprised when, in the next scene, she is revealed to be the maternal half of Ruthy Pribar’s mother-daughter drama. A 35-year-old Russian nurse in Jerusalem, Asia (Alena Yiv) was a teenager when she had Vika (Shira Haas). Now that Vika is a teenage girl and keen to experiment with boys and drugs, Asia struggles to discipline her while seeking to escape into relationships and drinks herself after long shifts. The urgency of Vika’s teenage rebellion is her rapidly progressing degenerative disease, which makes her desperate to experience the hedonistic pleasures of life.
“Asia” follows the contortions in Asia and Vika’s relationship as the latter’s health rapidly deteriorates. Pribar stages with a delicate touch, with little music and a lens attentive to faces and looks. But while the film eschews the sentimentalism typical of terminal illness dramas, it indulges heavily in austerity. Asia and Vika struggle to emerge as full characters from the film’s drab blue-gray frames, as the script rushes through a provocative plot and turns in its dark procession to a heartbreaking conclusion.
The most disturbing of these narrative twists concerns Gabi (Tamir Mula), a charming Arab nurse’s aide that Asia hires to take care of Vika. In a misguided attempt to satisfy her daughter’s desires, Asia makes Gabi a wholly indecent proposition – one that, in a bolder film, might have explored the ethical dilemmas that caregiving entails. often. But “Asia” plays down the transgression and its emotional ramifications, in what looks like a disservice to Vika’s claim that she deserves more than our pity.
Unclassified. In Hebrew and Russian, with subtitles. Duration: 1h25. In theaters.