This movie is so gorgeous, so unexpected, and relates with such heart-piercing clarity despite the eccentricity of its physical premise, that a post-viewing discussion group could be more helpful than a review. To call it a dance film is both accurate and misleading; it’s a film that uses dance to great effect within its narrative according to just what dance does in life — giving form to those profound aspects of consciousness that elude verbal expression. This happens however within a finely tuned, restless and heady mix of dialogue and narration that bends language to poetic purpose as surely as it bends conventions of genre and constructs of passion and gender.
Aviva is at heart a sort of boy-meets-girl, a sexy bohemian love story. It stars an impossibly beautiful and talented cast of actor/dancers whose characters DJ and produce music videos and move through the streets of Paris, Brooklyn, Los Angeles while they figure out who they want to be in life. Classic. But director Boaz Yakin’s version of this standard is embodied in a free-verse cavalcade of nudity, movement, frank sex scenes, gender fluidity, fabulous apartments, evocative dialog, toppling of the fourth wall, seductive cinematography, and perhaps most of all, in the incandescent choreography by former Batsheva Dance Company dancer Bobbi Jene Smith as performed by Smith and former Batsheva dancers Zina Zinchenko, Or Schraiber, actor Tyler Phillips, and an unforgettable supporting company.
The title character of Aviva and her partner Eden are each played by two actors. In a sense, their oppositely gendered counterpart selves can be understood as formulations of each of their inner selves (their masculine and feminine “sides” respectively). But in the scenes and especially in the dances, all four are physically present and fairly autonomous; all four are self-aware and aware of each other and pair off in every possible combination (including sexually; there’s a lot of sex in this movie) as throughout the story the different parts of themselves come to understand each other.
The film is very self-consciously a work of art and an experiment, but its strangeness is also seductive and utterly convincing; within minutes you are transported whole into this crafted world so unlike and yet so unlike this world we have. It’s cognitively immersive and the assertiveness of its artfulness does nothing to diminish the storytelling but rather enhances its power by making visible the unseen forces within ourselves that make us who we are.
Originally scheduled to premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, Aviva is now playing in Los Angeles at both the Laemmle and Lumiere streaming platforms. For details on how to watch, visit the film’s website.
Film-related conversations include: Sunday, June 14 at 4pm ET, a live-stream Q&A with director Boaz Yakin, and cast members Zina Zinchenko & Tyler Phillips; and Saturday, June 20 at 7pm ET, a Q&A with director Boaz Yakin, and cast members Bobbi Jene Smith & Or Schraiber. Click here to register.