A first feature about a teenage girl in Tehran with autobiographical elements.


Mahour Jabbari


In several respects, Ava can be thought of as a sister project to another film that opened here recently, Papicha. Although Ava is set in present-day Tehran while Papicha took place in Algeria in the 1990s. both films are concerned with teenage girls growing up in a society that restricts their freedoms and each stands as the feature debut of a female director who was also involved in the writing of the piece. In the case of Ava, the director is Sadaf Foroughi who is also sole author of the screenplay. I wholly admire the intentions behind both films but ultimately, albeit for different reasons, neither of them satisfies as much as one would wish.


The problem that I have with Ava relates to Sadaf Foroughi's decision to shoot it in a highly stylised way: it feels mannered rather than meaningful and it becomes obtrusive. The opening scenes which introduce us to 17-year-old Ava (Mahour Jabbari) in company with two close school friends, Melody (Shayesteh Sajadi) and Shirin (Sarah Alimardani), are finely done making us believe utterly in the girls, their bond, their chat and the bet that Ava makes with Shirin that she can successfully date the popular Nima (Houman Hoursan) who, as it happens, is Ava's accompanist in her violin classes. Equally persuasive in the writing is the portrait of Ava's home life dominated by her strict mother, Bahar (Bahar Noohian), since her more easy-going father (Vahid Aghapoor) has a job which often takes him away.


When a secret but wholly innocent rendezvous between Ava and Nima in a local park is discovered, Bahar is so outraged that she hauls off her daughter so that a gynaecologist can check that she is still a virgin. This may be the most extreme example depicted, but the school itself is hardly less coercive in the way it controls its pupils and it becomes evident that, rather than being a study of a singular family, Ava is intended as a work of broad social comment (indeed Foroughi although now based in Canada drew on her own teenage experiences in Iran when writing it). As director, she might want to contend that at least some of the visual stylisation that she imposes on her narrative of everyday life is meant to express the way in which the defiant Ava is hemmed in and confined. But, whatever the intention, the eye is continually distracted by shots of characters with their heads outside the frame or viewed from behind or presented in dialogue scenes in which one of the two involved is not seen. Colour too is sometimes featured non-naturalistically and there is a deliberate emphasis on compositions in which two-thirds of the image are, in effect, an irrelevant blank space and on shots that to some degree are out of focus. This does not deprive the film of its value as a view of Iran in the 21st century and, in an able cast, Mahour Jabbari effortlessly holds the centre of the screen. However, I can only describe the direction as eccentric, an indulgence that weakens the power of an interesting film.




Cast: Mahour Jabbari, Bahar Noohian, Leili Rashidi, Vahid Aghapoor, Shayesteh Sajadi, Sarah Alimardani, Houman Hoursan, Parnian Akhtari, Mona Ghiasi.


Dir Sadaf Foroughi, Pro Sadaf Foroughi and Kiarash Anvari, Screenplay Sadaf Foroughi, Ph Sina Kermanizadeh, Art Dir Siamak Karinejad, Ed Kiarash Anvari.


Sweet Delight Pictures/Wings of Desire-New Wave Films.
103 mins. Canada/Qatar/Iran. 2017. Rel: 21 August 2020. Available on Amazon Prime and other platforms. No Cert.