‘Aviva’ Movie Review: A Non-Binary Musical

Aviva was supposed to premiere at South by Southwest. Since the city of Austin, Texas cancelled the film festival (and its music and interactive counterparts), Strand Releasing and Outsider Pictures are releasing the musical directly to virtual cinemas on June 12. The film would surely find its tribe at a film festival, but those aren’t the cards 2020 dealt it. So it’s good that it will have its chance to go directly to the Non-Binary film and music lovers craving it.

Aviva: Zina Zinchennko
Zina Zinchenko | Outsider Pictures

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Aviva is truly a musical and a film for modern times. 2020 is a time where people do not have to conform to binary identities, be that gender or industry standards of Hollywood vs. indie. Aviva betrays those norms for a bold, confrontational and passionate film. Buy tickets and find out about free livestream Zoom Q&As with director Boaz Yakin and stars Zina Zinchenko and Tyler Phillips here.

Zina Zinchenko and Or Schraiber ARE ‘Aviva’

Aviva (Zinchenko) begins the film by breaking the fourth wall, and several other walls simultaneously. She narrates the story as Aviva, talking directly to the audience, but also switching bodies. In male form, Or Schraiber plays Aviva. 

Aviva: Bobbi Jene Smith and Zina Zinchenko
L-R: Bobbi Jene Smith and Zina Zinchenko | Outsider Pictures

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Aviva meets Eden (Bobbi Jene Smith and Tyler Phillips alternating in a Non-Binary role as well) online and moves from Paris to New York to be with him. In addition to breaking the fourth wall, characters appear naked before you, or in intimate settings like on the toilet.  It all invites the viewer in while challenging cinematic norms with images considered taboo by the mainstream. 

The music of ‘Aviva’

As soon as Zinchenko starts dancing through the streets of Paris, she looks like a powerful being stalking her prey. Her prey is our attention, which she and the other dancers have commanded. 

Aviva in Paris
Zina Zinchenko | Outsider Pictures

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There are intimate dances between two people and elaborate choreographed numbers with dozens of background dancers. Those scenes are impressive by any standards, let alone an independent film to manage with double digit numbers of performers.

Smith was also the choreographer. They’re photographed with a sweeping camera, as if the camera is also dancing with them. You’ll want the soundtrack, and since Asaf Avidan provided much of the music, you can already find it on his existing albums. 

‘Aviva’ could only be this explicit outside of Hollywood 

There is frontal male and female nudity throughout Aviva. The sex is explicit by Hollywood standards, but not pornographic. It’s intimate, but doesn not feel staged. The intimacy is sexier than any graphic sex scene, the way Blue is the Warmest Color was. It’s like Aviva is letting us in on private moments, not putting on titillating show.

Non-binary characters in Aviva
L-R: Tyler Phillips, Or Schraiber | Outsider Pictures

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Since Eden and Aviva switch genders intermittently, it is a powerful visual statement on Non-Binary gender fluidity and also toys with the conventions of love scenes. You may see their bodies couple in heterosexual forms, or same sex forms. Director Boaz Yakin is not afraid to show male on male love scenes, which is still taboo in mainstream Hollywood. 

There are dance love scenes too. That is truly profound, choreographing human bodies in loving positions, revealing a lot but never showing too much. 

Breaking the rules of cinema 

There have been a few arthouse movies that cast multiple people in the same role. Todd Solondz did in Palindromes and coincidentally named his character Aviva too. Todd Haynes cast Cate Blanchett as one of his Bob Dylans in I’m Not There. If another movie addressed gender Non-Binary relationships the way Aviva does, it’s not as well known. 

Yakin breaks traditional rules like “one actor per character” but he breaks his own rules too. It’s not just male and female sides of Aviva and Eden. He throws in third versions, and breaks the musical aesthetic of the film with a rap.

Non-Binary dance scene in Aviva
Tyler Phillips and Bobbi Jene Smith | Outsider Pictures

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There are so many tools at filmmakers’ disposal, it’s shocking that most of cinema has followed the same restrictive rules.Sure, there was the French New Wave and German Expressionism, but most cinema has been traditional narrative. And that’s fine. Escapist stories or powerful drama are necessary. If you are ready to take a plunge into truly experimental film – but experiments with a purpose, not just for the sake of it – Aviva may be the move you’ve been hungry for.