Gil Perez-Abraham and Ali Ahn in Anya (Photo: First Encounter)
★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Jacob Akira Okada & Carylanna Taylor
STARS Ali Ahn, Motell Foster
An unusual indie effort made on what’s been tagged a “micro-budget,” Anya is a movie rich with ambitions and ideas.
Tackling their first feature after years of shorts and documentaries, writer-director-producers Jacob Akira Okada and Carylanna Taylor place their focus on Libby (Ali Ahn) and Marco (Gil Perez-Abraham), a married couple who desperately want a child. Flashbacks reveal that Libby was a journalist who basically picked up this mysterious immigrant right off the street, but their love flourished and they now want to add to their family. But after Libby suffers several miscarriages, Marco reveals the truth: They cannot conceive because he is “cursed.” Coming from a (fictional) Caribbean island that houses the (fictional) Narval people, he believes the decree that his people cannot produce children if they leave their homes and attempt to procreate with non-Narvals (non-Narvalians?). Since Marco walked away from the isolated Narval community in Brooklyn, he is suffering the same fate.
Libby is both dubious and confused, so she takes Marco to see Dr. Seymour Livingston (Motell Foster), a brilliant geneticist and, incidentally, her former boyfriend. Seymour’s tests prove that, in a way, Marco is telling the truth about being cursed — this revelation leads to a journey into the hidden New York Narval community, where Libby and Seymour meet not only Marco’s no-nonsense mother (Ana Maria Jomolca) but also his other wife (Ana Kayne), the one who’s married to his ghost.
The meaning of the title becomes obvious to anyone paying attention (and actually acts as a spoiler of sorts), but beyond that, there isn’t much about Anya that’s predictable. It’s a love story, family drama, and science experiment all rolled into one, and Okada and Taylor do a fine job of easing from one chapter of the saga into the next. The score is often unnecessary and overbearing, and Seymour’s climactic about-face seems abrupt given his aspirations throughout the rest of the film. But the performances by Ahn and Foster are first-rate, and the attention to detail given to the Narval people serves to further deepen an already weighty story.
(Anya is now available on demand on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and other streaming services, and also available for purchase on DVD.)