Aviva is director Boaz Yakin’s self-reflexive love letter to filmmaking, manifested in the choreography of dance performances sketching the lines and figures of body, mind and emotion that are otherwise too intricately innate to palpably represent. Starting with an upfront breaking of the fourth wall, Aviva lays out what viewers should expect: dancers who act non-verbally, and the superimposition of voice-over narration for opposite genders.
Within Aviva’s familiar narrative progression of a love story, Yakin conjures up a fresh character device by splitting the man into Eden (Tyler Phillips) and his female alter ego (Bobbi Jene Smith), as well as the woman into Aviva (Zina Zinchenko) and her male alter ego (Or Schraiber). Within Eden and Aviva’s supposedly two-party, heterosexual relationship, the film strategically switches between these four characters via interactive combos of their voiceover narrations and on-screen presences.
Aviva is grounded by its thematic premise that individuals must acquire self-knowledge in order to understand and act on love. Through the seemingly binary dissections of Eden and Aviva’s gendered self-identities, Yakin’s film organically derives gender and sexual fluidity from the characters’ recreation of self into a shared identity with each other in experiencing together the carnal and emotional process of love. However, viewers also learn from Eden and Aviva that love does not simply emanate airy euphoria at all times, as problems arise from mundane everyday life, social confinement and the political border of the marriage institution. “Unconditional” and “selfless” love is an unsustainable myth.
Anchoring the merry-go-round of Aviva’s dance set-pieces, the depths of the film’s production design present its characters’ surroundings and enclosures as the signifiers of their evolving selves and changing love. Aviva lives in a white apartment with her ex-lover Philippe (Isaias Santamaria) before meeting Eden, with whom she moves into another white apartment in New York. But what is ostensibly designed as this “white room” — both then and now — symbolizes what is actually of the character herself, and what she projects onto her shared identities with her lovers.
During a set-piece when Aviva directs a music video for the song “Love It or Leave It,” she pours iridescent acrylic paints that splash, saturate, move upwards and swirl all over her white room. As Aviva symbolically leaves the past behind, the colored layer de-sterilizes the original white room’s production design (romantic suffocation), and highlights her progression into a self-assured and independent individual.
Meanwhile, Eden’s most intimate self-introspections are delivered by dance set-pieces that take place within a dark green room that is more hollow and open-ended. Here, the marvel of Yakin’s self-reflexive filmmaking infiltrates through the choreography of Aviva and Eden’s first imaginary dance together. In this set-piece, the characters’ arms surround each other in a strained embrace, as if any sudden movement might evaporate this strange yet tender thing that pulls them infinitely closer to each other.
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The set-piece references the film’s first montage sequence by intercutting Aviva and Eden dancing through the cityscapes and street vistas of Paris and New York, respectively — they are free and yet connected with their bodies through separate dimensions of space. Throughout Aviva, these dances embody a melancholic nostalgia foreshadowing the paradox between independence and coexistence during the merging of two individuals. Aviva and Eden’s dances — together and apart — mobilize Yakin’s film, and function as bodily mirrors and emotional mirages; gain and loss, self and love.
Weiting Liu (@bangsongliu) is a cinephile and television enthusiast based in Los Angeles. Her current career interests include freelance writing of film/tv criticism regarding race, gender and intersectionality in contemporary America, as well as academic pursuit of Film Studies concentrating on sociopolitical Chinese/East Asian cinema.