“AVIVA”— A Visual Feast of Dance, Surrealism and Gender


A Visual Feast of Dance, Surrealism and Gender

Amos Lassen

“Aviva” blends dance and surrealist interrogations of gender identity. It is an amazing visual feast that is “often mind-bending, breaking down assumptions and putting things back together in ways that are illuminating and expansive.”  It is a sexy look at romance and dance set in a world of gender-fluid, frequently unclothed bodies. Directed by Boaz Yakin, “Aviva” is an impressionistic film that is a  universal love story and an exploration of gender dynamics by incorporating gorgeous dance sequences. Here is a look attoday’s restless, frenzied and fluid time that demystifies the male-female dynamic.

“Aviva opens” with the character of Aviva (Bobbi Jene Smith) naked on a bed looking directly at the camera, telling us that she is an actress and is acting right now, speaking dialogue written by “what we as a species commonly refer to as a man.” She’s also a dancer and explains she’s in the film because the dancing required is too difficult for a non-dancer to pull off. From this point, the film gets more and more self-conscious. Yakin, the director allows a sense of self-importance and condescension come in here.

Aviva met Eden online through a friend and they fall in love. Aviva gives up her life in Paris to be with Eden in New York City. They engage in a passionate affair, get married but jealousies arise.. Aviva is a woman and Eden is a man, except each character is played by both a woman and a man and while this is confusing at first, it works out as we watch.

Aviva lives to dance—it is an integral part of her. Sometimes dance is part of the plot, while at other times, it can be an abstraction. There is a lot of sex and nudity and it seems that as each character is introduced, we see him/her posing nude.  This could be to show that everyone is physically vulnerable and this makes us also emotionally vulnerable. Then again, this might not be the case.

There is also a lot of dialogue but I found this to often bother me because so much of what is said really does not propel the plot. I felt sometimes that I was watching a therapy session without the psychiatrist being there. We have four actors portraying two characters and until we finally understand who is who and why, our minds become overloaded.

With the dance, the film becomes full of life. The choreography by Smith and Or Schraiber (who plays one half of Aviva), is amazing and provides the emotional work that the rest of the film doesn’t have. The wedding dance is both fabulous, vibrant and surprising. There’s a sequence between a naked man and a naked woman in a white room that is touching and brilliant with Smith as Eden (half of Eden, anyway) as she dances her way with narration through a trip to the airport and onto a plane while still remaining in a rehearsal studio. This, and the sex make the film worthwhile. However, when a character speaks directly to the camera about musical theater and singing, I could not help but wonder what was going on. If you can sit through the dialogue to get to the sex and the dancing, you will be rewarded.

“Aviva” is a love story thatnis propelled by inventive dance sequences and uninhibited sex. However, the first bodies we see are totally still. Their gazes are direct, their self-confident nakedness is either a rebuke or a challenge repression and they set the tone for the emotional and physical dancing that comes. We have a switch in characters with Eden (Tyler Phillips) and Aviva (Zina Zinchenko) who are also played by the aforementioned  Bobbi Jene Smith (as the female aspect of Eden) and Or Schraiber (the male Aviva). This quartet of selves come to life in varying configurations, giving  explorations of flesh and identity, complete with four-way living-room arguments and metaphorical bedroom threesomes.

Nothing about this film is either predictable or ordinary. In terms of narrative and choreography. It breaks down assumptions and puts things back together in ways that illuminate. It is alsoindulgent, frustrating and tiring. There is a lot to take in but it is always fascinating.

As the relationship moves forward, stops and begins again, the couple’s other selves become more and more a part of the action. Aviva and her male counterpart are essentially in sync — and once they’re both acknowledged by Eden, within the same scene, it’s clear that something important is happening. Eden is not ready to embrace his female half, but in a terrific rescue, Aviva helps him satisfy a sexual partner (Annie Rigney).

Smith and Schraiber bring a powerful sensuality to the film, while Phillips and Zinchenko bring a dreamier aspect.

The gender fluidity in the film is really about psychological identity and how we can be divided against ourselves or more truly whole. When it works, it is glorious. However, there are times when the narrative becomes self-absorbed and is more muddled than clear.

“Aviva” is a world of its own and asks questions about knowing ourselves, relationships, disconnection and art. Even though there are stops and starts, the film moves. The choreography  presents gender politics, heartache, loneliness and soul searching that we all deal with.

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