Ali & Ava review: An understated delight
James R | On 20, May 2022
Director: Clio Barnard
Cast: Claire Rushbrook, Adeel Akhtar, Ellora Torchia
Clio Barnard has long been one of this country’s most interesting filmmakers and with Ali & Ava, she delivers once again a thoughtful, timely and moving portrait of modern Britain.
Claire Rushbrook and Adeel Akhtar are the eponymous duo, a teaching assistant and a landlord who cross paths in Bradford and start to form a connection. Each of them comes with baggage: Ali is separated from his wife, Runa (Ellora Torchia), who is much more mature than he is, but he is determined to keep this a secret from his family, so they continue to live together. Meanwhile, Ava is doing her best to support her new grandchild without holding on to the dark legacy of her late husband, which looms over her household – and her son, Callum (The Selfish Giant’s Shaun Thomas).
They’re portrayed brilliantly by the lead couple, with Claire Rushbrook bringing an everyday charm to her hard-working mother and Adeel Ahktar delivering a career-best performance as the exuberant, music-obsessed fellow who we quickly learn is also a part-time DJ. Their friendship, and possible romance, raises tough questions of race and class, as well as age and parenthood.
But all these conflicts and tensions are briefly, beautifully briefly brushed aside by the winning simplicity of their connection, which Barnard captures with heartfelt sincerity. One standout scene in which they both listen to their own choice of music through headphones, but dance together regardless, is boldly cinematic and deeply human. A warm-hearted triumph.