A nude woman (Bobbi Jene Smith) informs us she is an actor and is already acting while relating how ‘a flamboyant but straight matchmaker’ insisted the New Yorker, Eden (Tyler Phillips), meet an incredible woman living in Paris, “Aviva.”
Laura's Review: A
This may be the most unexpected film based on a filmmaker’s prior work I can recall and it is a glorious, sensual, compelling dive into a romantic relationship expressed with dance and gender fluidity. Writer/director Boaz Yakin ("Remember the Titans," 2015's "Max") has cast both male and female counterparts to Eden (Phillips and Smith) and Aviva (Zina Zinchenko, "7 Days in Entebbe," and Or Schraiber), reconfiguring them within scenes both conversational and sexual, illustrating how warring factions within our own psyches affect our relationships (and, surprisingly, how closely male and female perspectives sometimes align). This is a stunningly original work of art, directed with the same awareness of movement by Yakin as evinced by his dancers (who have all been members of Israeli company Batsheva).
Smith’s introduction may be a little confusing at first because the transatlantic email correspondence we see between Eden and Aviva only presents their external gender personae. The epistolary courtship is illustrated with each in his or her own environment, sometimes dancing, as their words weave two souls together. Aviva announces she is making a bold move and traveling to New York to meet Eden in person. He awaits her arrival at the airport clutching red roses. She expresses a desire to go slow while he over analyzes his response to her query about the restaurant they are in. Cut to a lovemaking scene, where intimacy issues arise.
Yakin uses flashbacks showing Aviva’s evolution from feeding at her mother’s breast to sexual experimentation. Eden admits something he never told her, an experience as a child where he discovered a new found friend was a girl and not a boy and how that shut him down. She objects to his need for ‘time with the boys,’ accusing him of ‘being in love’ with best friend Mason (Omri Drumlevich). Their space becomes an issue, Aviva describing a perfect ‘white room’ she once shared with a Moroccan who broke her heart, Eden unhappy about moving. Then immigration issues raise their head and Eden balks before acquiescing to the ‘marriage to see if we want marriage.’ The relationship eventually falters, transatlantic separation becomes bicoastal, another attempt is made…
Throughout, Yakin stages a parallel pas de deux, a male dancer replacing the female mid-conversation and vice versa, Eden’s reaction to sex with Aviva’s more aggressive male counterpart causing him, rather than her, to withdraw, Eden’s female counterpart engaging in a sensual coupling with same. Eventually, each will engage with both halves of the other. Eden’s separation rebound, Nicole (Annie Rigney), urges him into S&M play.
All of the dancing is beautiful to behold but Bobbi Jene Smith, in particular, moves with unparalleled grace (there is a 2017 documentary on her, “Bobbi Jene,” which won several Tribeca Film Festival prizes). Three scenes – her in the center of Eden’s ‘male’ friends at a bar, a horizontal sideways shuffle with Aviva’s male counterpart that leads into a waltz and a solo piece miming Eden’s travel to L.A. – are extraordinary. Yakin also has his characters break the fourth wall, at one point walking through his film’s costuming racks out onto the street, at another having Eden explain why he loves the spontaneity of dance but hates characters breaking out into song in musicals. He’s found a beautiful way to end Eden and Aviva’s story, bringing dancers from throughout his film back into Central Park while the two former lovers’ relationship evolves.
“Aviva” is truly something special.
"Aviva" is playing at the virtual theaters listed here.
(Be forewarned that frank nudity and sexual situations would earn this film an NC-17.)