TIFF 2017: AVA

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There is something undeniably universal about the teenage experience. While it can be argued that no two teens are exactly alike, the curiosities about the opposite sex and the questions about their own place in the world are identifiable regardless of where this coming-of-age ritual takes place. This is one of the reasons why Sadaf Foroughi’s directorial debut, Ava, is such a riveting piece of cinema.

Ava (Mahour Jabbari) is a normal teenage girl by all accounts. She is a good student, dreams of becoming a professional musician, and makes silly bets about getting the attention of a boy, with other girls in her school. By comparison she is a saint relative to what other 16-year-olds are getting themselves into. Unfortunately, Ava’s overprotective Iranian parents do not think the topic of boys should even be on their daughter’s mind at this stage.

Overreacting about an encounter with a classmate’s brother, which Ava insists was innocent in nature, her mother takes her to a gynecologist to ensure that she is still a virgin. This action of mistrust on her mother’s part begins to have huge ramifications for the embarrassed Ava. As the noose of contradiction and overprotection starts to tighten around Ava’s neck, she begins to question the motives and double standards of the stifling society she is stuck in.

One of the most startling things about Ava is the way in which the adults seem intent on protecting the children at all costs, without every really saying what they are shielding them from. There is talk of a recent incident that occurred to another student, but neither Ava’s teachers or parents ever elaborate on what happen, or where it took place. Instead they preach about the horrors of succumbing to basic human emotions for fear of dishonoring the community.

Ava’s sense of communal paranoia is especially noticeable in the police like state that Ava’s school slowly becomes. Students who barely differentiate fact from fiction are put in a position where they must report any sign of “indiscretions” they hear about. The irony that the youth who are not worthy of the adult’s full trust, but must become trusted informants, is not lost on either Foroughi or the audience.

It is the weight of this oppression and double standards, the latter of which is evident when Ava learns of her parent’s past, that makes Ava’s journey so heartbreaking. As the adults systematically take away everything she holds dear, and her resulting actions become more desperate, it’s clear that her only crime is not wanting the carry the burden that those around her have unjustly placed on her.

A powerful coming-of-age tale of isolation and hypocrisy, Ava officially announces Sadaf Foroughi as a filmmaker whose vision and gift for storytelling demands our attention.