Review: A fractured pas de deux between masculine and feminine sides

Michael Ordoña
It isn't all roses: Bobbi Jene Smith and Zina Zinchenko play the feminine sides of a man and a woman in a fraught relationship in the dance-driven feature "Aviva."  (Outsider Pictures)

The dance-driven "Aviva" isn't a pas de deux so much as a pas de deux multiplié par deux.

It's a nonlinear look inside the relationship of Eden, a man (Tyler Phillips), and Aviva, a woman (Zina Zinchenko) — and Eden's feminine side (Bobbi Jene Smith, who choreographed) and Aviva's masculine side (co-choreographer Or Schraiber). Eden struggles with his various aspects, including his occasionally younger male self; Aviva's varied energies are more smoothly integrated. This schism will cause problems for the couple.

Oh, and amid the dancing in this non-musical, there's also quite a bit of full nudity and permutations of semi-explicit sex. Just so you know.

There isn't exactly a plot; we see episodes from Eden and Aviva's life together. Their courtship begins online, through a friend; they meet, fall in love, marry for immigration purposes; argue and part; She emerges as a successful music-video director, and it's not clear what he wants to do with his life. But the events themselves aren't important in this unconventional narrative. It's really about that struggle to come together with another when one hasn't really come together within him or herself, so who needs plot points or acts or any of that factory-widget storytelling stuff?

That "Aviva" feels like a theater piece isn't necessarily a knock. It doesn't feel confined to a proscenium. Arseni Khachaturan's fine, versatile cinematography captures the beauty or urgency of the motion, as well as some arresting images. Estee Braverman's stylized production design is likewise effective, particularly in its use of color and creation of distinct spaces to convey some of the film's ideas (though its Los Angeles visit strangely doesn't feel like L.A.). Also, Asaf Avidan's tailor-made score includes several excellent songs. The dancing can certainly be expressive and never feels shoehorned in; rather, the dance sequences seem part of the narrative's DNA.

What really feels theatrical is its occasionally stilted dialogue and its narrative conceits —the handed-off narration, the masculine-feminine casting and the sometimes-presentational acting style. It was written and directed by Boaz Yakin ("Remember the Titans") in an unexpected artistic turn, and may draw some inspiration from his life. He has acknowledged the characters' struggle with themselves is inspired by his own experiences and he too was married for some time to a music-video director.

But the film fails to coalesce largely because viewers are left to wonder what joins the couple in the first place. There's a haze of beautiful naked bodies, but even from their sexual beginnings, Eden and Aviva don't connect. There's lots of sex, but no joy, no passion. Because of their lack of intimate rapport, we don't understand why their relationship continues at all. What's depicted instead is a series of arguments mostly caused by male Eden's hangups and limitations. Perhaps that's confessional on Yakin's part; unfortunately, the dramatic effect is one of lessened stakes. We don't deeply care whether they stay together.

The idea of the couple's various sides dominating their conduct at different times has promise. It's also interesting to convey subtext, even truth, through nonverbal movement sequences. But without the emotional hook of caring about Eden and Aviva's relationship (or really, about them as people, as they're perhaps too presentationally sketched), "Aviva" fails to find a deeply resonant rhythm.