In Ava, the increasing darkness of Léa Mysius’ direction echoes the encroaching blindness of its young heroine in a strikingly original coming-of-age story.
Rage against the Dying of the Lightby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Léa Mysius‘ debut as a director is an astonishingly assured coming of age story. The film starts with a beautifully coloured scene of a crowded beach in southwest France, filled with ordinary holidaymakers. The camera pans in a circuit as a wolf-like black dog walks the length of the beach until it finds thirteen-year-old Ava (stunning newcomer Noée Abita). Its blackness is one of the symbols throughout the film of the fate that’s inexorably ahead of her when Ava is told by her hospital consultant that she has a generative eye condition and will go blind in two weeks. Her insensitive single mother’s reaction is to say they’ll make this the best holiday ever.
Ava keeps her feelings to herself but she charts the narrowing of her eyesight in her diary and drawings. She’s fascinated by a solitary boy she sees on the beach. He owns the mysterious black dog and Ava steals it. When he takes it back, she tracks him down to the disused fortification where he’s hiding out. He’s Juan (Juan Cano), a smoulderingly handsome Spanish Gypsy, hiding from the nearby Gypsy encampment. Despite Ava’s young age, the two start a relationship, living in the freedom of the beach until the black-uniformed police track him down. Soon the two teenagers start a surreally violent Bonnie and Clyde crime spree in the sleepy little seaside town and Ava allows herself to be drawn into Juan’s dangerous world.
As Ava’s eyesight fails, the sun-drenched beaches turn into threatening enclosures and the film becomes progressively darker, metaphorically and literally. Ava is an original coming-of-age story that takes off in unexpected directions and finds a resolution in a way that is both breaktakingly out of time and yet also too fragile to last – a memorable film.
Ava premiered at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, screened at the 61st BFI London Film Festival and is released on 22 December 2017 on Mubi.