Sadaf Foroughi’s Ava begins with a few innocuous things, conversations to be exact. The titular 16-year-old character (Mahour Jabbari) does well in school and has musical talent. However her nagging mother Bahar (Bahar Noohian) watches her every move outside of it. She starts a bet with her classmates involving a boy. There’s her father Vahid (Vahid Aghapoor). He asks her about said boy and does his best to look like the cool parent in doing so. In this world, Ava’s psychological unraveling blindsided them, and it almost did the same to me.
Until I retraced her steps and remembered how these little events are like wounds. These things gnaw into something uncontrollable. While watching films set in other countries I have to ensure that I’m not exoticizing their specific experiences. I didn’t grow up here neither so I should understand these complexities. Ava is growing up in a fictional yet plausible version of Iran. That said, there are overprotective parents like Bahar who live here. There are Avas in Canada whose decisions can turn out wrong even if it’s not their fault.
Foroughi shows a gift for visually expressing her film’s fractured world. She would blur if not block out sections of the frame while depicting conversations between characters. She cleanly shifts from and back to symmetry, the shot confining the character within. Characters leave and reenter the frame. Ava does this a lot to express her increasing hostility against her parents. There’s a power dynamic in what we see and don’t. She’s showing the difficulties of communication. She highlights how these people talk at each other instead of to each other.
Ava uses the old adage that weakness is strength, making her interesting to the viewer. It involves the bet that started it all, that she can date one of her classmates’ brother Nima (Houman Hourasan). She commits herself to the bet, revealing her stubbornness. She also lives in a situation where rules define her life yet these laws are nebulous and arbitrary. It’s inevitable for her to step on a line without knowing so. Thankfully she’s in a film mature enough to sympathize with her.
The writing is complex for main characters like Ava and her parents. However, some of the supporting characters are on the archetypal side. One of these characters is the principal in her school, Ms. Dekhoda (Leili Rashidi). She’s strict to the point of having an obsession with her students sex life. Which is fine, except that Rashidi can overdo Dekhoda’s gestures. The scenes between the other students don’t always work neither. But thankfully these small flaws doesn’t distract from this otherwise good character study.