VOD film review: Ava (2017)
Mark Harrison | On 22, Aug 2020
Director: Sadaf Foroughi
Cast: Mahour Jabbari, Bahar Noohian, Vahid Aghapoor, Leili Radshidi
Watch Ava online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / BFI Player / Modern Films
Written and directed by Iranian-Canadian filmmaker Sadaf Foroughi, Ava follows a teenage girl’s quiet rebellion as she’s publicly shamed by the older women around her. Though she’s an excellent student and a promising young violinist, Ava Vali (Mahour Jabbari) has a fractious relationship with her parents Bahar (Bahar Noohian) and Vahid (Vahid Aghapoor), which spills over into all aspects of her academic and social life after an innocent teenage bet goes awry. Pestered by the overbearing headteacher Ms. Dehkhoda (Leili Rashidi), Ava becomes ever more anxious and furious about her mother’s interference.
Foroughi’s film is suffused with frustration, whether it’s simmering between characters or raging against the broader societal inequalities that spur this relatively small-scale story onward. It’s the kind of film where conflict arises from a lack of communication, where dialogue-free repressed anger speaks louder than the various rows and showdowns.
As shot by cinematographer Sina Kermanizadeh, the film leaves you not really knowing where to look during a series of interactions that are locked off at elbow level, deliberately not showing the characters’ faces. This cold approach makes eavesdroppers of the viewers, which is quite fitting for a film in which characters are often found either talking behind each other‘s backs or telling tales to Radshidi’s glowering, white-gloved gargoyle.
Given the constant distance and volume of rowing, it’s all the more effective whenever Foroughi catches Jabbari in a close-up, especially in one of the film’s more quietly shocking developments. It’s her powerhouse anti-chemistry with Noohian that fuels the film, with the mother acting as a grown-up teenage “rulebreaker” who seems determined to impress her own regrets upon her daughter before she has chance to misbehave.
Throughout the drama, imagined transgressions are met with wince-making punishments, whether it’s a dressing-down from a music tutor after Ava’s rehearsal schedule starts to suffer or a mortifying visit to the doctor meant to allay Bahar’s fears rather than protect her daughter. On both counts, the film’s measured classical music interludes only serve to ratchet up the tension, rather than provide respite.
Low-key as the film is, Ava becomes all the more effective through its stylish execution and carefully modulated performances. With an almost defiant stoicism, this compelling teen drama interrogates the unfairness of patriarchy and internalised misogyny and all of the emotional and psychological violence that they provoke. There are hard lessons to be learned here, made all the harsher for how the grown-up characters seem to keep missing them.