Film Review: AVA (Iran/Canada/Qatar 2017)

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Ava Poster
The life of a high school girl in Iran becomes more complicated after her mother catches her in an act of rebellion.


Sadaf Foroughi


AVA is not to be confused with the other film AVA, the French film directed Lea Mysius that won a prestigious Cannes prize about a 13-year old discovering sex before going blind.  Both films coincidentally have young female protagonists.

What is a Persian high school female teen to do?  Everything she does is criticized and looked own upon.  Her mother (Bahar Noohian) is constantly on her case as are her teachers at school and even her friends when she goes on about dating boys.  Ava (Mahour Jabbari) would be considered a normal girl in the western world with her behaviour that would not be tolerated in the Persian world.

AVA is a critically acclaimed Canadian co-production shot in Iran that screened in the Discovery section at the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI Discovery Prize and received an Honourable Mention for Best Canadian First Feature Film. 

Writer/director Sadaf Foroughi ups the angst when Ava discovers that her parents were not so innocent either.  When Ava learns that her parents were once flagrant rule breakers themselves, she begins to rebel against the very foundations of her society. 

Surprisingly, Ava’s father (Vahid Aghapoor) is more tolerant and director Forough shows that Ava’s problems comes mainly from the females and not the males.  It is a cycle in society that has been so established that change is almost impossible.

The film slags a bit in the middle with what seems to be a shortage of material.  The film’s segments are the ones where mother and daughter argue it out, no holds barred.  They use every means possible to win their arguments including personal hidden secrets.  Director Foroughi clearly wishes the audience take the daughter’s side but actress Baba Noohian is so good as the mother, that her argumentative points gets the audience’s sympathy.  Father is always only in the background until the film’s climax.

AVA also reveals what an all girls school system is like (assuming what is shown is authentic).  As expected the headmistress is an anal retentive authoritarian (or bitch to be more direct) who has no sympathy for Ava and no clue on the restlessness of the youth under her care.

AVA masterfully demonstrates how a culture of authority can force denial and detachment, particularly among young women during their formative yet vulnerable high school years.  A small but important yet impressive first feature!  The film builds to an exciting and effective climax.

AVA is the film that sparked a bit of controversy at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival when its Iranian actors were denied entry to Canada for the purpose of promoting the film.  Immigration Canada responded to say that the would-be visitors failed to meet the requirement standards.

AVA is currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for a week, limited engagement as part of Canada’s Top 10 Films of the year.  Worth a visit for sure!

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