Hollywood has made a small fortune from the coming of age film. From teen exploitation flicks to John Hughes they have been a staple on our screens for decades. However, the movie Ava, written and directed by Sadaf Foroughi, takes the tropes we’ve become familiar with in the format (rebellious girl, parents who don’t understand what they’ve done wrong, and horrible school principle) and places them in a context most of us won’t have experienced – present day Teheran, Iran.
Ava is the only daughter of a professional couple. The family is well off, well educated, and the parents are, only naturally, somewhat overprotective of their daughter. Even before we actually see Ava’s mother on screen her rather overwhelming presence in her daughter’s life is made very obvious. As Ava is being driven to school her mother insists on driving her right to the schools gates and as her daughter greets friends on the street she calls out for them to go into the school and not gather on the sidewalk.
In Iran the image of propriety is as important, if not more so, than actual propriety. To be seen, or even thought to be, acting improperly, can have repercussions for not just a daughter, but an entire family. In a society where an unmarried woman isn’t allowed to be seen alone with a man who is not a direct blood relative, there are far too many ways a teenage girl’s behaviour can be be inappropriate.
Unfortunately there are also far too many ways for a mother to worry about her daughter. What if she’s seen with a man, what if she’s caught out doing something she shouldn’t? All these what ifs pray on a person and eventually colours their relationships. Amazingly this movie not only brings that reality to life, but does so with such subtlety our awareness of these circumstances only develops gradually over the course of the film.
Foroughi and her actors have done a magnificent job of bringing the realities of the various characters to life. As the movie progresses so does our understanding of the characters and how nothing is as simple as it might seem on the surface. We learn the tension between Ava and her mother has its roots in something that happened to her mother when she was young.
The cast, who are all Iranian, are universally wonderful to watch. Each of them gives an unaffected performance that not only radiates truth, but captures the multiple layers of emotional worry the characters experience. We watch as each character travels their own arc and in the process revealing both the motivations behind their actions and their true natures.
AVA is a thoughtful and understated movie which takes us into the life of a teenage girl in today’s Iran. The world she moves in and her experiences aren’t what we’re used to, and there’s no doubt its oppressive – the principle asks the girls in Ava’s school to inform on other girls if they think their behaviour is inappropriate.
However, the more we watch the more we realize Ava and her friends are just like girls their age all over the world. They have ambitions, joke about boys, and experiment with make up. In fact it’s this sense of normality which makes the strictness of the code they’re expected to adhere to seem even more oppressive.
AVA is a beautiful and sensitive look at the life of one teenage woman on the verge of adulthood. We watch as she tries to create space within the confining boundaries of her society in order to express herself and achieve her dream of studying music. If you have the opportunity go see it – high quality films like these don’t come around everyday. While it toured the festival circuit in 2017 its theatrical release was only April 28 2018 so there’s still plenty of chances to see it