It’s rare that a movie can make me cry both happy and sad tears, but Asia, written and directed by Ruthy Pribar, accomplished that. Asia is an absolutely wonderfully constructed drama that will elicit emotion in its viewer while showcasing brilliant acting, symbolism, cinematography, writing, and directing.
Asia is about a mother-daughter relationship, with Asia being the mother and Vika being the daughter, as they try to navigate life together while being surrounded by death and destructive behaviors. Asia is a palliative care nurse, and Vika is a young woman, who’s about the age of a college student, struggling to survive against a progressive disease.
Shira Haas plays Vika beautifully, and when I began watching Asia and saw that she was in it, I knew that I would at least witness a wonderful performance from her, as she’s shone as the lead role of Ester Shapiro, in Unorthodox on Netflix. Haas’ acting in Asia is haunting in the best way, in that her performance lingers long after watching her act because she is that talented at portraying the complex character of Vika.
The cinematography of Asia is brilliant, as it advances the symbolism of the movie. There are about 11 times where Asia’s reflection is shown, about 3 times where Vika’s reflection is shown, and about 2 times where the reflection of Gabi, Vika’s aid and Asia’s coworker at the hospital, is shown. Reflections are either shown in windows, the shiny white tiles of Vika’s kitchen, or directly in mirrors. Toward the end of the film, Vika tells Asia that she used to look in her mirror wondering when she would look like Asia. The prevalence of reflections throughout the film suggests that reflections are symbolic. Reflections in the film can be symbolic of multiple things, but I interpret them to suggest that we, as humans, are reflections of those who are around us and of the actions we take in our daily lives.
Tea is also symbolic in the film. In the beginning, Asia mentions that she doesn’t want sugar in her tea, and the person she is speaking to says that that’s good for her, implying that Asia is making a better choice for her health by choosing to not have sugar. However, throughout the film, Asia gives into less healthy decisions more and more. Asia, as a palliative care nurse, is surrounded by death constantly, and she resists the idea of death initially, but she continues to make unhealthy decisions for herself and for Vika throughout the film. Asia gives Vika Coca-Cola, drags of a cigarette, and feeds her pizza, which are all unhealthy items to put in one’s body, especially in the state of health that Vika is in. When Asia gets Coca-Cola for Vika, we see that there is also tea in the vending machine, which is arguably a healthier choice than Coca-Cola. Yet, Asia still chooses Coca-Cola. Asia, a flawed character, progressively surrenders to accepting that destructive behavior is a part of human life and stops trying to stave off death.
I believe that any piece of art that elicits emotion is a success. Any piece of art that makes one think and feel conflicting and complicated thoughts and emotions is even more of a success, and Asia makes one think and feel those complicated thoughts and emotions in an accessible way. Asia guides one through those emotions. At one point in the film, I found myself happy crying, and then the characters started happy crying. The characters and I were happy crying together. My emotions while watching were in-tune with the characters’ emotions consistently, which is an effect that is very difficult to create in an audience member when creating a film. It takes the perfect intersection of incredible acting, symbolism, cinematography, writing, and directing to accomplish that, and that’s exactly what Asia had.
Alan Inkles, the Director of Staller Center and of SBU’s 2021 Film Series told me about choosing Asia for the film series that, “I don’t want to bring anyone down so much during the pandemic, but the reality is I’d rather give you something that is meaningful. It does entertain, but in a different way. It’s challenging. It’s thought-provoking. It’s a lot different than what’s mostly on Netflix these days.” I absolutely agree with Inkles, as Asia is a meaningful and important film for any viewer. I’d recommend Asia to everyone because I think everyone can learn something from this film.
Despite Asia being about potentially saddening themes, the movie for me was happy-sad, meaning that the themes of the movie can be saddening, but the movie was made so brilliantly that I felt really inspired, energized, and happy after watching it. I loved Asia so much, and I’d like to thank Ruthy Pribar and everyone involved in Asia for making the film.