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Film Review: Ali & Ava
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Clio Barnard, UK 2021

Nervous energy pushes back the thick, billowing fog, at the nucleus of this energy is Ali (Adeel Ahkar) wearing a headset and jamming away to the sound of the Buzzcocks on the rooftop of his car. This is the introduction to a troubled, warm-hearted, British-Pakistani working-class landlord, who optimistically believes his love connection to music will conquer his troubles. Ali’s kindness doesn’t shield him from the harsh realities of a recent separation, a miscarriage, and a claustrophobic family home life, revealing flaws that make us love Ahkar’s character all the more.

While picking up his tenant’s daughter from school, Ali offers the girl’s teacher Ava (Claire Rushbrook) a ride home; suddenly sparks fly – even in a rainstorm. She couldn’t be more different to Ali. Growing up in a large Irish Catholic family, Ava already has several adult children from different fathers, not to mention grandchildren. She too is marked by a traumatic-troubled past and is trying to move forward. Music plays a key element in this film. Ali’s love for Hip Hop and Ava’s love for Bob Dylan and Irish folksongs give them the media to intimately connect.

British director Clio Barnard takes a new approach to a saturated genre by tweaking it with smart dialogue, a cross-culture midlife love story, and a sense of humor that should heal anyone with troubles in their own lives. Set in Barnard’s familiar territory of West Yorkshire, seen in her previous film DARK RIVER (2017), is a melting pot of very different cultures living side by side. Charismatic and sensitive performances given by both Akhatar and Rushbrook provide the perfect ingredients for humor and romance, as well as expose the complexities of their own family structures that are sizable forces of opposition, making us wonder if this romance will have a chance.