Two lonely souls share an unlikely bond in multicultural Bradford. However, for Ali (Adeel Aktah) and Ava (Claire Rushbrook), this romance might be difficult for their families to accept.
Ali and Ava is an autumnal romance through the lens of social realism and cultural clash. Curiously enough, that clash comes more from a class basis rather than ethnicity. That’s not to say that is not a part of the film, as the traditional attitudes that Ali’s family has are obviously shaped by this (forcing Ali to keep a secret of his own), but they’re less of an impact to the film than they might have been, say, a decade earlier. Instead it is more the divide between social economic areas (and not that much of middle and lower class divide) that provides the gulf, as well as a variety of other factors that add the barriers to this romantic tale – age, life experience, children, and even musical taste.
Director Clio Barnard provides enough space to allow the actors to breathe and inhabit their roles. In turn we are rewarded with a charmingly believable growing relationship, borne on the back of two very naturalistic performances. Both carry a strange sense of vulnerability mixed with strength, but manifest different ways to mask their pain. For Ali that is a projection of a more jovial and direct personality, while Ava tends towards a guarded determination. Akhtar and Rushbrook bring a lot of nuance to the characters, sometimes with barely a hopeful glance.
The one area where Barnard’s direction does seem intrusive of the narrative is in the music selection. In a film where everything else seems so tilted towards the cinema vérité of social realism, the music mix can often be jarring as differing genres collide with each other. It’s a deliberate stylistic choice, and one that doesn’t initially sit comfortably with the audience, as it emphasises the different personalities at play here and the difficulties of such a love finding harmony. It also highlights the talent in Barnard’s direction, as it appears very hands off, while still maintaining a gentle guiding presence.
Certainly not a film for everyone, as Ali and Ava lacks any earth-shattering drama, instead concentrating on the minutiae of the personal. Still in its own gentle way, this is a charming and enthralling tale.
Ali and Ava is playing as part of the British Film Festival, which hits Palace Cinemas Raine Square, Luna Leederville, Luna on SX and Windsor Cinema from Wednesday, November 3 until Wednesday, December 1. Check the website for screening times and film details.