An intimate and visually intuitive portrayal of one young female teenager’s life as she battles her family, friends and school to find her voice and meaning in life in a conservative society.
Dir. Sadaf Foroughi
2017 | Iran/Canada | Drama | 102 mins | Persian
PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language
Cast: Mahour Jabbari, Bahar Noohian, Vahid Aghapoor
Plot: The life of a high school girl in Iran becomes more complicated after her mother catches her in an act of rebellion.
Awards: Won Best Canadian First Feature Film – Honourable Mention & FIPRESCI Prize – Discovery (Toronto)
International Sales: Mongrel International
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at the Middle East Film Festival ’19)
There have been numerous Iranian movies about young boys or girls operating in the ‘flow’ of their circumstances, be it the refugee children in Bahman Ghobadi’s harrowing Turtles Can Fly (2004), or Majid Majidi’s shoe-searching boy in the crowd-pleasing Children of Heaven (1997).
But Ava, the debut feature by Canadian-Iranian filmmaker Sadaf Foroughi whose work won the Best Canadian First Feature Film (Honourable Mention) award at Toronto, adopts a slightly different approach, and in fact, one could even make the observation that it feels less ‘Iranian’ than the works of her compatriots, evoking a more polished, even Euro-style aesthetic and drama.
Ava is about a girl, her school life, friends and family, but ultimately it is about a young female teenager’s search for her own voice in a conservative family with a strict mother, and by extension, the society that she lives in (authoritative teachers and a strict, controlling environment). One might dismiss its familiar plotlines and themes as conventional, but its earnestness in getting into the heart and psyche of its protagonist feels more intimate if also claustrophobic than usual.
Here, Ava (Mahour Jabbari in a fine, nuanced performance) becomes our acquaintance, rather than Ava becoming a character study. The film finds itself nicely poised between a palatable drama that mainstream viewers could enjoy, as well as a deeper piece on what it is really like to be young and the world seemingly against you. In other words, it is a quietly rebellious work.
Ava’s experiences of teenage angst and jealousy become apparent as she tries to one-upmanship her friends in a dare to date guys. Despite being hip (she wears bright red Converse shoes), she is not without a cultivated passion—and in this case it is learning the violin, to her mother’s utter disdain. The irony, if one were to recall, is that in the first scene where Ava’s mother drives her to school, the car’s radio is playing classical music.
Foroughi’s precise eye for framing, including employing unorthodox angles, as well as playing with different depths of field, results in a visually intuitive work, where cinematography plays a major part in developing Ava’s psychological reaction to overbearing authority. One extraordinary scene where she does something very unexpected in the classroom is the best example of Foroughi’s visual principles aligning perfectly with a child’s troubled psyche.