Ali & Ava
Director: Clio Barnard
Stars: Claire Rushbrook, Adeel Akhtar, Shaun Thomas, Ellora Torchia
Writer-director Barnard sticks to the council estate setting of previous films, experimental debut ‘The Arbor’ and the poetic realist ‘The Selfish Giant’, for this comparatively mainstream Bradford-set story of two disparate souls finding common ground. The always reliable Akhtar is Ali, a kindly landlord (steady now!) and hyperactive music obsessive, recently separated from his wife (Tochia), who is trying to keep the split a secret from his devout family. Ava (Rushbrook) is a down-to-earth, cheerful teacher’s assistant and grandmother living with her twenty-something son. They meet when Ali is picking up one of his tenants kids and he offers to give Ava a lift and shelter from the rain. Teasing each other about their music tastes – she likes country and he’s a banging choons dance fan – the two establish a rapport. Problems emerge however when Ava’s son Callum (Thomas), who still misses his father, is resentful and racist towards her mother’s new acquaintance. Despite a brief running time, the story takes in cultural differences, mental health, and the unacknowledged sexuality of older people, but it feels a little underwritten and over-reliant on, admittedly handsomely rendered, shots of the protagonists lost in reverie. Nevertheless, it boasts heartfelt and entirely relatable turns from Akhtar and Rushbrook.