It’s not often we see cross-cultural romances get the big screen treatment… (major spoilers – if you want to know just a little about the film, please see the second item here)
By Mamie Colfox
WRITER-DIRECTOR Clio Barnard’s ‘Ali & Ava’ is a surprisingly raw and honest film.
Set in Bradford, the two worlds of Ali (Adeel Akhtar) and Bradford-born Ava (Claire Rushbrook) collide so unexpectedly, it’s difficult to know which way the film will go.
Ali comes from a middle-class background, whilst Ava is a working-class teaching assistant.
Ali’s family own property and he collects rent from his Eastern European tenants, but instead of being the stereotypical landlord, he is their friend. He even does the school run for their children. Although on the surface he seems happy go lucky, there is an undertone of sadness behind his eyes. Perhaps the opening scene, when he listens to loud music and dances on the top of his car, is a release from something? Or is it his melancholy gaze as he stares out of the window of his car? Either way, something isn’t right.
It’s not until we meet Runa (Ellora Torchia) his soon to be ex-wife with whom he still lives under the same roof, that we work out why. He’s broken from the collapse of his marriage and is terrified of telling his quite traditional Asian family that they’re getting a divorce. Instead, the two carry on the façade, attending family meals together and Runa’s willingness to go along with this is obviously because she still cares for Ali, even if she doesn’t love him.
When Ali meets Ava in the school playground on the school run, she provides a refreshing break from the awkward limbo he is living in. So, when he picks up the daughter of one of his tenants, he gives her a lift home too. Their friendship begins slowly, and at some points it is questionable whether they will become more than that. Ava’s family is complicated; now a widow, her husband used to beat her, which has worn off on her son Callum (Shaun Thomas). She has two daughters, one of whom is an addict. She lives for her children, and when Ali comes into her life, they are wary, perhaps because her sole focus is no longer her children. The first time Ali comes to Ava’s house, Callum threatens him with the sword that hangs on the wall in his bedroom. It’s terrifying. Is it because of Ali’s skin colour? Or is it because his mother has moved on? Either way, Callum’s reaction shows he has a lot of his father in him.
The romance that blossoms between Ali and Ava is handled sensitively, and even with no intimate scenes past lying in bed together, you can tell they are very much in love. One particularly touching moment sees Ava express how much she likes Ali as she tentatively strokes his chest. There are many other moments of rawness that makes their connection strong; they both understand the struggles of the other. Or at least until Ava catches Ali and Runa hugging intimately, having one final goodbye before Runa finally moves out. It is ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ for Ava, and she misunderstands the situation, leaving distraught.
After a few scenes of heartbreak, the film ends with a reconciliation between the two, whilst Ali waits patiently in a secluded meet up spot. Will Ava hear him out? Will she forgive him? Quite rightly she keeps him waiting, and it’s not until the final moments of the film that we see her arrive. And the rest is history.
ACV rating: **** (out of five)
Ali & Ava is in cinemas in the UK now (March 4)
Have you seen our red carpet interviews with Adeel Akhtar, Clio Barnard and Claire Rushbrook?
Ali & Ava is up for two Baftas next week – Adeel Akhtar in the Best Actor category and the film itself in Best British Film. We will be running a short preview early next week. Stay connected or connect with us on socials to know when it’s out Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.
New clip released only this week…