Depicting the spark of a love story in a northern town, Ali & Ava contains two exceptional performances from its leads, and is definitely worthy of your time.
Ali & Ava is probably the most hopeful of Clio Barnard’s films to date, but it is still no less powerful than any of her previous work.
Returning to familiar territory in the northern English city of Bradford, Barnard’s latest film charts the first month of a relationship featuring two simple characters with complex backgrounds.
Ali (Adeel Akhtar) is a British-born Pakistani, whose family owns properties which they rent out to other immigrant and refugee families. His days are spent collecting rent and carrying out repairs to the homes, and evenings find him in his man-cave, listening to and creating rap and electronic music on his own. He’s affable, funny, and wants to help. Taking his tenant’s young daughter to school one morning, he encounters Ava (Claire Rushbrook), a mum and grandma who works as a classroom assistant at the school. Ava is selfless and kind, the type of woman who is happy to let the children jump on the sofa because it brings them all joy, and will feed her grandchildren pot noodles for tea as a treat when the parents are not looking.
An act of kindness on a rainy day sparks a friendship between the two which develops into stronger feelings, but the hurdles to potential happiness are not immediately obvious at first sight.
Ali & Ava depends entirely on the casting, performances, and screen chemistry of the two leads – Akhtar and Rushbrook – and my goodness they are fabulous! Entirely believable as two ordinary people with everyday family stresses to manage, they are also vulnerable with each other, gradually revealing the heartbreak and trauma which burdens them on a daily basis. Although from different backgrounds and cultures, they succeed in finding things they have in common without even trying – a strong sense of community, a love of music, family loyalty – from which it is easy to see how similar they are.
And the biggest thing which connects them is simply that they are two lonely souls who really need to find each other and put themselves first for once.
Clio Barnard succeeds in making Ali & Ava feel like we are genuinely witnessing a relationship develop before our eyes, without being a prurient spectator; anyone who isn’t rooting for these two to find happiness with each other simply has no heart.
Do not be deceived though – this is no simple love story; there are tough issues for each of the pair to come to terms with (and no, not to do with their cultural differences). But they are issues which many people deal with and so add realism to the narrative, which handles them with sensitivity and honesty. It’s a story of ordinary people made large.
Two perfect performances from Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook, and some masterful directing by Clio Barnard puts Ali & Ava as one of the best films you will see this year.