Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Bob’s Cinema Diary: 6/28/21 — ‘Asia’ and ‘I Carry You With Me’


Alena Yiv and Shira Haas play mother and daughter in the Israeli drama, Asia. Asia, the mother and title character of the movie, is a Russian immigrant to Israel who works as a nurse, carries on an affair with a married doctor, and enjoys a taste of Tel Aviv's nightlife. Her 17-year-old daughter Vika (Haas) deals with major problems: Those related to adolescence (drugs, alcohol, and a burgeoning interest in sex) and a much graver issue: a terminal disease that's crippling her body. Director Ruthy Pribar skillfully handles the film's mother/daughter dynamics with observational poise and a brilliant bit of casting. Yiv and  Haas look enough alike that sometimes you have to remind yourself which character you're watching. This is a good thing because Mom, now 35, had her daughter when she was 18. She's in that precarious position where she has been both friend and parent to Vika. Both actresses give deeply immersive performances that, like the movie, are never showy or sentimental. A minimal plot introduces Gabi (Tamir Mula), a young man who begins work as Vika's home aide. In a misguided attempt at wish fulfillment, Asia encourages Gabi to seduce Vika who hopes not to die a virgin. At times, Pribar moves so slowly, it's as if time is standing still. But Asia puts us into the lives of two characters dealing with an irreversible fate that casts a deep shadow over a story that's not afraid to tackle complex issues and let them play out in ways that prove unsettling and emotionally powerful.

I Carry You With Me

Ivan (Armando Espitia) and Gerardo (Christian Vazquez) meet and fall in love in what might have been an ordinary gay romance. But director Heidi Ewing has more in mind than another love story. Using dramatized footage and documentary scenes involving the real Ivan and Gerardo, she creates a story that dramatizes the painful homophobic bigotry faced by the two men in the town of Puebla, Mexico, in the 1990s. Despite trying to pass as straight, Ivan has developed a strained relationship with the mother of his young son. Flashbacks show us how Gerardo's father brutalized his him, hoping to  terrify the gay out of his son. Eventually, Ivan moves to New York where he's able to pursue his dream of being a chef -- albeit as an illegal immigrant. Gerardo eventually follows. The men can't escape the pain of longing for what they've left behind while living in ways that don't separate them from their identities as gay men. Though not devoid of harsh characterizations, Ewing's portrayal of Mexico is enriched by color and palpable affection for life there. Espitia and Vazquez give fine performances with Espitia registering as the more ebullient of the two. Michelle Rodriguez portrays Sandra, a friend who accompanies Ivan on his trek to the US. Not all the pieces fit together seamlessly (the actors are more interesting than the real Ivan and Gerardo), but Ewing  illuminates a multiplicity of concerns that revolve around love, gender, and cultural dislocation.

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