Who: Boaz Yakin, Bobbi Jene Smith, Zina Zinchenko, Or Schraiber, Tyler Phillips
What: Virtual theatrical release of Aviva (Boaz Yakin, 2019), with live Q&As
Where: Angelika Film Center, $11.99 to rent film; Q&As free
When: Streaming begins June 12; Q&A with director Boaz Yakin and cast members and choreographers Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber, moderated by Robert Rosenberg, June 13 & 20, free with RSVP, 7:00; with Yakin and cast members Zina Zinchenko and Tyler Phillips, moderated by Rosenberg, June 14, free with RSVP, 7:00; with filmmakers June 18, Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, free with RSVP, 8:30
Why: “There’s nothing more depressing or lonely than being alone in New York City,” a character says in voice-over early on in Boaz Yakin’s intensely intimate and sexual Aviva, an SXSW2020 selection that is being released virtually June 12 through the Angelika online here in New York. A few moments later, the character adds, “And so we created an imaginary space together, a space outside of time and space, shared only by us.” Aviva is a tantalizing, introspective film seemingly made for the time of coronavirus, with so many people still sheltering in place, facing isolation and loneliness, seeking connections via new spaces such as Zoom.
Yakin, a New York-based Israeli American writer, director, and producer who previously made Fresh, Remember the Titans, and Max, collaborated extensively with dancer-choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith on the film, which uses an array of beautiful bodies — nearly every actor is introduced in the nude — to express ideas of personal identity, traditional gender roles, love, friendship, boundaries, and creativity. Zina Zinchenko plays Aviva, a free-spirited Jewish dancer in Paris who is set up with Eden (Tyler Phillips), a relatively uncommunicative and ultraserious New Yorker. In Hebrew, Aviva means springlike and innocent, while Eden is named after the Garden of Eden, particularly the promise that turns into a fall from grace.
Yakin brilliantly explores the masculine-feminine contradictions in us all by also having Smith portray Eden as a woman, and her real-life husband, Or Schraiber, play Aviva as a man. The other characters recognize the two Edens and two Avivas, speaking with them as if there is nothing odd about the situation. In addition, the four speak to each other, arguing and debating the state of their desires, which becomes especially intriguing, and confusing, in the numerous graphic sexual scenes that sometimes involve multiple men and women. Dances are intricately placed throughout the film as part of the drama; the actors don’t simply break out into song a la Hollywood musicals so much as the movement usually develops more organically as characters get close, touch hands, and then come together in gorgeously choreographed solos and pas de deux, as well as a fun, freewheeling scene in a club. Yakin regularly breaks the fourth wall as characters speak directly at the viewer and, occasionally, the boom mic and the cameramen enter shots; there is no reason for him to hide that this is a movie, and that it is about dance, among other things.
Smith and Aviva co-choreographer Schraiber are both veterans of Ohad Naharin’s storied Israeli troupe Batsheva; the former teaches Gaga, Naharin’s unique physical language, and her parents are mimes who teach movement for actors at Juilliard; the real lives of Smith and Schraiber were detailed in the extraordinary 2017 documentary Bobbi Jene. Smith, Schraiber, and Zinchenko have also appeared together in such Batsheva pieces as The Last Work, while Zinchenko and Phillips are both veterans of Sleep No More. The four protagonists’ familiarity with one another adds another level of intimacy; we sometimes feel like we’re intruding on real life, which contrasts effectively with Bobbi Gene, which is framed like a fiction film.
New Yorkers will get a cathartic kick when the story travels to Coney Island and Central Park, recognizing such familiar sites as the Wonder Wheel and the Hans Christian Andersen statue, popular spots come spring and summer. It’s also no coincidence that children are front and center in those scenes. For those of us missing the connections that dance, sex, and going to the movies bring us, Aviva satisfies many of those needs. There will be free, live Q&As with Yakin and members of the cast on June 13, 14, 18, and 20; the film can be rented online for $11.99.