My French Film Festival review: Ava
James R | On 17, Feb 2018
Director: Léa Mysius
Cast: Noée Abita, Laure Calamy, Juan Cano
Watch Ava online in the UK: MUBI UK / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / FilmDoo / Google Play
Ava is one of 13 feature films released online as part of the 2018 My French Film Festival. Movies are available to buy and rent, with a selection of shorts available to stream for free. For more information, click here.
Sight is something that’s so easy to take for granted. Even the very act of watching a film, without an audio description track to help convey what’s going on, is something magical that can be undervalued in its visible impact and open accessibility. The opening of Ava, part of this year’s My French Film Festival, immediately defies us to do so, as we’re presented with the bright, colourful beach-scape of Medoc. Léa Mysius’ camera wanders through the sandy crowd aimlessly, until it lands upon Ava (Noée Abita), a 13 year old whose eyesight is slowly failing.
Retinitis pigmentosa is the name of her condition, which will slowly reduce her peripheral vision and stop her eye being able to process light. We join her as she discovers that the condition is advancing faster than first thought, leaving her blind in a matter of weeks – it’s little surprise, perhaps, that she’s not smiling. But, of course, teenagers don’t always smile very much, and there’s a cruel parallel between her dwindling sight and coming-of-age; a loss of innocence echoed by her loss of vision that feels natural, complex and real.
Her mother (Laure Calamy) tries to support her, but is far from a close friend or even a caring guardian; too self-centred to care fully, she’s soon distracted from her daughter by a fling with a bloke from the beach. She promises Ava the best summer ever – Sun! Sea! Ice cream! – but Ava soon has to make that promise a reality all by herself. There are components to what we might think that will entail, including a glimpse of handsome surfing teacher Mathias, but this isn’t your typical teen summer flick, and Ava is all the better for it.
Mathias’ romance, for example, never really blossoms, as Ava instead spends her time blindfolding herself and trying to get used to having three senses. Then, she kidnaps a dog, which turns out to belong to Juan (Juan Cano), who effectively becomes her seasonal friend. There’s a strong sense of agency and control, as this girl takes an active step into becoming a woman without succumbing to being a victim of her condition. Abita is excellent, never trying too hard to make Ava charming or kind, proving immediately sympathetic in her tough resilience; she’s the one who seems to help Juan more than the other way around, the kind of behaviour that endearingly contradicts the way she views herself as “invisible”.
Their blossoming adventure sees them running around the sand and dancing with body paint – a madcap burst of life, energy and burgeoning sensuality that’s captured beautifully by Paul Guilhaume (both DoP and co-writer on the project). The finale doesn’t quite find a satisfactory resolution, but Mysius’ feature debut emerges not as a downbeat study of a young person’s horizons closing down, but a spirited ode to seizing the day in its full vibrance while the sun sets. It’s that rare thing: cinema that doesn’t take sight, or being seen, for granted.