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Soliciting Sexual Healing

Daniella Nowitz/Tribeca Film Festival

Asia (2020)

The Israeli entry to the Academy Awards, “Asia” often feels like a Lifetime movie gone wrong. It’s got all the trappings: dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, irresponsible mother, rebellious daughter, disability and terminal illness. Russian nurse Asia (Alena Yiv) is too busy to attend to her sick teenage daughter, Vika (Shira Haas), but she manages to find time to lure her married doctor colleague to come out to the car for a quickie. Meanwhile, Asia deploys fellow nurse Gabi (Tamir Mula), a Palestinian who can’t get enough shifts at the hospital, to care for Vika.

As to how the film goes wrong, where to begin? The indecent proposal or the workplace sexual harassment? Asia’s No. 1 priority apparently is for Vika to lose her virginity, and she has Gabi in mind for the job. He gladly accepts. While Gabi’s marginalized (i.e. Palestinian) identity is probably a screenwriting shorthand meant to generate some instant sympathy, his willingness to seduce a dying young woman and defile her makes him all kinds of morally suspect. It’s also mind-boggling that the wheelchair-bound Vika would feel remotely sexual in this scenario and not even slightly humiliated by her mother’s soliciting on her behalf.

Even if viewers were to suspend their collective disbelief and overlook all the morally blurry cringeyness, you still have to wonder what is exactly the point of it all. Is sex the ultimate pleasure, escapism, avoidance behavior, transaction or, as the film alleges, all of the above? To be sure, Asia isn’t horrible because she’s a carnal woman who wants sex and knows how to get it. Just imagine if Vika were a lesbian and Asia hired Gabi to set her straight, and how that would change the tone of the film. Exactly. It wouldn’t in the slightest. If a male director were trying to get away with what writer-director Ruthy Pribar attempts here, his work wouldn’t be shown anywhere, let alone become the Israeli entry to the Academy Awards.


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