There’s a scene in All That Jazz, Bob Fosse’s 1979 autobiographical stroll down auteur boulevard, where Roy Scheider’s Fosse stand-in Joe Gideon offers a room full of weary investors a look at the choreography for the film’s fictitious version of Chicago. This small audience is expecting something staid and standard but instead gets a sexually-charged spectacle of lithe, scantily clad bodies simulating physical passion and desire like sinewy precision instruments. Mouths hang agape. Faces redden. Sweat trickles.

Aviva carries that same energy for almost two hours. At its core it is a story about two young people making bad choices in a relationship that demands too much of them and swims in typical psychoanalytical pools pertaining to its characters. But to offset the typical, the filmmaker adds in elements of gender fluidity, media criticism and dance that makes the movie a stunning piece of cinema.

The film begins with a naked woman (Bobbi Jean Smith, also the film’s choreographer), who introduces herself as a dancer and explains the number of cameras filming her. Her presence and purpose reminds us that we are watching a construction, and we meet another dancer (Zina Zinchenko) who continues this conversation. Zinchenko plays Aviva and Smith plays Eden, and they are about to embark on the story of how they fell in love. But they are only half the story. Aviva is also played by a male actor named Or Schraiber and Eden is played by Tyler Phillips. The actors interchange, blending the combinations of the Aviva-Eden pairing between gay and straight, but all four appear together at times, or three of four, making scenes examinations of internal battles. The process of rearrangement and expansion recodes but doesn’t always hide the commonplace relationship joys and travails, but it makes it more bearable. Over the course of the film, Aviva moves from Paris to New York to be with Eden, subsuming her own plans for her partner’s; Eden is distant, only coming alive during conflict; Eden takes Aviva’s inability to orgasm personally.

Dance sequences add a sense of theatricality and whimsy, and make it clear that Bobbi Jean Smith the star. At times the movie feels like an experimental theater production, especially when Aviva and Eden retreat to their safe place, an empty rehearsal space that tugs at the heart of anyone that spent time in a theater scene. They work out their joy and heartache there and twice travel to LA without ever leaving New York. The film is at its best when modes of performance are blended and the fourth wall is leveled.

The creative voice behind the film seems intent on celebrating the physical beauty of youth while illustrating the self-destructive fragility of the egos of twenty-somethings through the roving esthetic of low-budget filmmaking. Being so invested in young people and the power and vulnerability of sex and nudity, the assumption is that this must be the work of some new voice on the cinema stage, an upstart mining their first lost love for a big break. Surprisingly, Aviva was written and directed by Boaz Yakin, who had a writing credit on the first Punisher movie (the one that starred Dolph Lundgren) and would go on to direct the Denzel Washington vehicle Remember the Titans. His work ranges from his directorial debut Fresh, about African-American gangs in New York to Max, the story of a heroic dog in the Marine corp. Yakin has forged a multi-decade career as a screenwriter and director of mostly mainstream movies, living a dream so many strive for, but he became the artist who walked away to forge his own creative path, thereby living another version of that dream.

After Remember the Titans became a hit, Yakin could have had any job he wanted, but he couldn’t muster any passion for tent pole filmmaking. While many directors cry about leaving it all behind to tell more personal stories, few take that leap. With a quiet determination, he has made a film that pushes boundaries in depictions of sexuality and nudity while deconstructing our narrative expectations around a love story. In another world this would be a film on the lips of cinephiles just back from a screening at SXSW. Discussions would rage about how it succeeds most when using artificiality like dance sequences to convey honest emotions while its more conventional scenes can feel trite and contrived. We’re not getting that world back for a time, so find this film and let it survive until we do.

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