ALI and AVA, both lonely for different reasons, meet and sparks fly. Over a lunar month a deep connection begins to grow, despite the legacy of AVA’s past relationship, and ALI’s emotional turmoil at the breakdown of his marriage.
Clio Barnard’s latest film is another slice of British social realism, this time centering on two individuals who form a tentative relationship with each other, impacted by the scars of their past and hostility from their families. It’s set in Bradford and stars Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook as the titular characters, who we learn about through the screen as they learn about each other. Ali is a landlord and music enthusiast stuck in a loveless marriage, whilst Ava is a classroom assistant and widowed mother who spends most of her time caring for her brood of children and grandchildren. They encounter each other outside the school where Ava works one day, where some severe rain draws them together and initiates the beginning of their connection.
‘Ali & Ava’ covers many of the same themes that Barnard has covered in previous works, such as class, poverty and life in some of the forgotten parts of the United Kingdom. Race is another element that factors in to the story, albeit more from the perspective of Ali struggling to be honest with his family about his separation. Ali & Ava are both individuals who seem to have almost shied away from finding love, or found themselves in a place where they believe it just isn’t meant to be for them, and it’s touching watching them gradually open up to each other. Barnard’s direction captures this well, focusing on little glances and touching hands, aided by the well-chosen music and performances from Akhtar and Rushbrook that make their characters easy to root for. It is a little less sure footed when conflict comes to the fore and I felt some of those moments didn’t quite fit with the sweet nature of the overall story – the subtle challenges they would face to form a relationship are well shown without the need for Ava’s son Callum’s over the top reactions.
‘Ali & Ava’ is a solid romance movie led by two incredibly likeable lead performances, and Barnard brings the story to life well, even as it perhaps lacks the punch or power of some of her standout works.
Directed By: Clio Barnard
Starring: Adeel Akhtar, Claire Rushbrook, Ellora Torchia, Shaun Thomas, Natalie Gavin and Mona Goodwin