Asia: Film Review

Asia

Shira Haas absolutely blew me away with her performance in Netflix’s Unorthodox so I had to see what she was capable of in something else – and she doesn’t disappoint in Israeli film Asia.

The film follows Asia (Alena Yiv), a 35-year-old single mother who immigrated to Jerusalem from Russia and works as a nurse. She is a free-spirited woman who likes to party at the local bar and has casual sex. She isn’t particularly close with her daughter Vika (Haas) and they scarcely interact with each other, with Vika spending most of her time smoking with her friends down the local skate park. But Asia has to step up and finally find that connection with her daughter when her health rapidly deteriorates.

Haas won the Best Actress prize at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year for her performance as Vika and it’s easy to see why. She makes it look so effortless. It is never specified which terminal illness Vika suffers from but based on what I saw, I assumed it was motor neurone disease. Haas does an astounding job both emotionally as a teenager who knows they’re dying and physically as she convincingly portrays someone who is losing control of their motor functions. Yiv is equally impressive playing someone who is struggling to cope with so much responsibility and has the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Ruthy Pribar won the Nora Ephron Prize at the same film festival and deservedly so – this is an assured debut. Most films which tell this sort of story are super sentimental tearjerkers which do the most to make you cry, whereas this is completely unsentimental and tells it like it is and that makes it more affecting and moving, with a surprising final scene that’ll stick in the mind for a while afterwards.

Asia is a short movie at only 88 minutes but it feels longer as it has a slow, relaxed pace plus the main characters aren’t super close so they don’t speak very much. I struggled to get into it because of its sparse, minimal nature. I got more invested once Vika’s illness started to physically manifest itself and Asia’s hospital colleague Gabi (Tamir Mula) is hired to help out at home while Asia has to work.

Asia, which is in Hebrew, certainly won’t be for everyone but I can assure you that you’ve never seen a terminal illness movie like it. It takes a well-worn story and makes it fresh and interesting, gives us two well-formed characters to invest in, and features two powerful performances.

Available on Curzon Home Cinema and in selected U.K. cinemas on Friday 20th November. Most theatrical screenings have been delayed until December

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.