Review: Ali & Ava
…dissects Clio Barnard’s latest piece of social-realism for its multi-faceted inspirations and lauds its warm message.
Ali & Ava is a social-realist-musical-melodrama, flush with spectacle and a love of Bob Dylan. Clio Barnard has been credited as a “new voice for British cinema” by Mark Kermode and here honours this with a multifaceted exploration of the burgeoning relationship between Ali (Adeel Akhtar) and Ava (Claire Rushbrook) – noted by the director as having been inspired by locals from the Bradford community.
Thematically, Ali & Ava takes inspiration from Douglas Sirk’s 1955 All that Heaven Allows, exchanging 1950s consumerism hues for the beauty of the Yorkshire landscape. Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974) is also mirrored, in its portrayal of racial and familial divides.
Ali is a middle-aged British-Asian landlord, respected by both his tenants and his family as a strong, uncomplicated, religious man. Yet it is these qualities that confine Ali’s passion for rap music and have calcified into a stubbornness in his lengthy separation from his studious wife Runa (Ellora Torchia). Lending the film one of its many musical qualities, Ali’s frustrated railing against these societal constraints take the form of transcendent dance breaks during which he jams to Skwolla by Bradford rapper Lunar C.
It is Ali’s friendship with a tenant’s family that sees him introduced him to primary school assistant Ava, a middle-aged, widowed, Irish-Catholic mother, who possesses a nearly-saintly warmth towards her students and her children alike. In Ava’s life, her often-defiant children become her barriers and her own musical release comes in the form of her long bus journeys to and from work, listening to the likes of Bob Dylan.
In this way, it’s Ali and Ava’s shared love of music that enables them to relate to each other on a mental, physical and emotional level.
In sum total, Ali & Ava provides a welcome message for 2022
Barnard’s film represents an evolution of melodramatic form, whilst still owing a great deal to that dominant, historic style. Ava presents her security with Ali through an innovative shared vulnerability, epitomised in a lovably cringeworthy lip-sync sequence that takes place on Ava’s living room couch. Music as a secure location references the final scenes of Fear Eats The Soul, where that film’s couple, Ali and Emmi, dance together, alone in their thoughts.
The two films’ stylistic similarities appear once more in the aggressiveness of Ava’s elder son, Callum, a character whose conveyed humanity seems in equal parts a product of Barnard’s script and the talented performance of The Selfish Giant actor Shaun Thomas. The film’s primary source of antagonism, Callum holds a strong adult hatred towards the disruptive appearance of Ali whilst regressing to a childish need for affection and ultimate devotion from his mother.
In sum total, Ali & Ava provides a welcome message for 2022: love is strongest in its uniqueness and, over any supposed strength belonging to blood ties, family bonds can be formed even through something as specific as a shared admiration.