Ava (2017)

Ava is an unforgiving, unforgettable coming-of-age film about a teenage girl’s loss of freedom in Iran from a compelling new filmmaker, Sadaf Foroughi.

Girls Will Be...

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Ava is a teenage Iranian schoolgirl. When we first see her and her friends they are giggling together and talking about boys like teenage girls anywhere. But the misogynistic, repressive society they live in is bound round by so many petty restrictions that an innocent act that breaks the rules can have serious lifelong repercussions.

Classical music is important in the film. Ava (beautifully acted by Mahour Jabbari) is a talented violin player and wants to study music, which her mother disapproves of as having no practical career value. The piano accompanist at her music lessons, and also for the recital they are practising for, is handsome Nima (Houman Hoursan), the brother of her friend Melody (Shayesteh Sajadi). Ava makes a silly bet with their other friend, unpopular Shirin (Sarah Alimoradi),that she can have a date with him – despite the fact that being alone with the opposite sex is strictly forbidden in that theocratic society.

This date is an innocent walk in the park one afternoon, the two don’t even touch, but when Ava’s overworked hospital doctor mother Bahar (Bahar Noohian) finds out, her hysterically furious reaction – first of all taking Ava for a humiliating virginity test – bit by bit threatens to close down every aspect of Ava’s independence and hopes. Ava’s father Vahid (Vahid Aghapoor), more easygoing, is usually absent, working elsewhere. Mrs Dehkhoda (Leili Rashidi), the religiously hardline headmistress of her school is more of a moral enforcer for the girls then an educator. Women in this society are responsible for the repression of the next generation of girls.

Director Sadaf Foroughi has a striking eye for design and colour in every scene. She lets her camera run as if we are eavesdropping observers on unfolding events. Sometimes we only see part of a scene or only one of the people speaking. Ava’s parents talk about her as if she is not there, while she moves quietly in the background around their austere, green-tinted apartment. Her parents themselves have secrets that reveal their behaviour as hypocritical as well as controlling.

Foroughi, now living in Canada, based her angry, coruscating first feature film on what it was like for her growing up in Iran. Ava starts as an obedient daughter but, as she starts to realise how every tiny part of her life is increasingly being confined and policed, she challenges her parents and we see her growing seething anger and rebellion. It’s an unforgiving, unforgettable film about loss of freedom from a very interesting new filmmaker.

Ava screened at the Toronto Film Festival and is released online on 21 August 2020 in the UK.

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