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Ava - Rounding up the Usual Suspects
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Ava
SIFF's capsule summary: "Though a model daughter and student, Iranian teenager Ava is still forced to take a humiliating medical exam to prove her virginity, igniting a fierce rebellious streak. Based on her own experiences, Sadaf Foroughi's gripping debut is an intimate story, and a harsh critique of growing up female in a claustrophobic society.
    'It's gut-punch cinema, uneasy and unpredictable, though Foroughi keeps it clicking right along into the rare open ending that feels earned.' Kate Erbland — IndieWire" (Iran, 2017, 103 minutes)
SIFF link: Ava

Ava (Mahour Jabbari) is Iranian high school girl. She's an excellent student and good musician. Her mother (Bahar Noohian) works such long hours that she's somewhat out of touch with Ava, so when she hears a rumor that Ava has been seen with a boy, she overreacts and humiliates Ava. Her father (Vahid Aghapoor) is more supportive, but he often works out of the city.

The school's headmaster (Leyli Rashidi) talks the talk about protecting her students, but she's clearly more concerned with the reputation of her school than the best interests of the girls in the school. On several occasions the headmaster threatens to expel Ava and some of her friends, often on the basis of unfounded rumors. She also cajoles students to snitch on each other. Ava, however, wants to rebel against repressive aspects of Iranian society, and the adults who enforce the rules.

9 Excellent Iranian-Canadian writer-director Sadaf Foroughi sets a universal story line, teen resistance to parental limits, into the repressive society of present-day Iran. In a freer society, a girl like Ava would likely be presented as a good example for other students, but in her upper middle class school even normal teen behavior makes her a dangerous trouble-maker. That escalates the stakes for Ava. The headmaster is a bit of a one-note adversary to Ava, but I don't see that as a flaw because the story is presented from Ava's point of view, and that's how she perceives the headmaster. The writing is excellent. The directing is interesting too, with a lot of isolation of characters with selective focus, quite a few close-up shots on hands or feet rather than faces, and quite a few shots that last longer than usual.

The film initially had a professional actress cast as Ava, but she backed out in favor of going to school (university, I think), and after a casting search 16-year-old (now 17) first-time actress Mahour Jabbari got the part. And she was excellent in a part where she had to show a broad range of emotions. Bahar Noohian, possibly the most experienced cast member, was also excellent, in a somewhat less complicated role. Vahid Aghapoor (whose character name was also Vahid) was very good in a small but demanding role. Leyli Rashidi was good, possibly limited by her portrayal through Ava's point of view. Supporting characters were generally good.

I saw a surprisingly large number of locations mentioned in the credits, including several schools, but in the film they looked like a single school. Production design was good; Ava's costuming was very good.

On the strength of the writing, directing, and the lead actress, I rate the film excellent overall.

Languages: Persian (Farsi), with English subtitles, and a little English.

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating (yet), but I'd guess it would rate a "PG-13"; sexual themes are restrained in hopes of gaining Iranian censors' approval, and violence is minimal.

Screening: 6:30 pm, Lincoln Square Cinema.
Audience: full house, about 360 seats.

Snacks: none.


Bonus: Director appearance, with a question-and-answer session after the film. This transcript is based on my heavily abbreviated notes. If some of the answers are a bit disjointed, it's the fault of my notes; the director was consistently eloquent with her actual answers. Quotes indicate the few things I remember exactly.

Presenter: The lead actress was not a professional actor, right?

Sadaf Foroughi: Yes. The lead role was cast, but the actress chose to go back to school instead. Mahour Jabbari was not a professional. She's 17 now, but was 16 then. We had 45 days of rehearsal. [Although the director volunteered the duration of rehearsals, no one asked her how long the film took to shoot, and she didn't volunteer it.]

Presenter: Has it shown in Iran?

Sadaf Foroughi: I need permission. I will have to go there to ask for it.

Audience: Can a student go to another school if they're expelled for something minor?

Sadaf Foroughi: In public schools it's difficult. Now that there are private schools it's different. They look more at the reason a student was expelled.

Audience: Can you settle a bet? Where was the film shot?

Sadaf Foroughi: In Iran.

Same audience person: "I lost the bet."

Sadaf Foroughi: "Sorry."

Audience: Did you have permission to shoot? Are you a resident of Canada?

Sadaf Foroughi: I am Canadian, and I had permission. I didn't touch any red-line rules; it was just a story about a family. It wasn't political.

Audience: Do young people really talk like that? They sound different from when I lived there. They use different words, and different swearing.

Sadaf Foroughi: "We cannot generalize." Yes for some people.

Audience: I left Iran before the revolution. Iranian film is better now. There are more "females"

Sadaf Foroughi: I agree. I don't know why. Imagination is a gift. Creativity is pushed by limitations. We need to express our vision.

Audience: Why did you have all the close-up details, like her feet, and so forth?

Sadaf Foroughi: A lot of scenes were just Ava by herself, and the close-ups show the human side of the character.

Audience: Why was red Ava's favorite color?

Sadaf Foroughi: It was in the first shot, to show contrast with her parents. Red represents anger and desire. Her red shoes were inspired by the film The Red Shoes. Ava decided to be an individual.

Audience: At the end Ava is in a hard place.

Presenter: In a review, a critic wrote that Ava is a film with a well-earned open ending. [I assume the presenter meant this review.]

Sadaf Foroughi: It was a reference to Truffaut. Ava changed things, and she continues.

Audience: Just a comment. Thank you. Well done.


Ads and announcements:

  • BECU — This film is sponsored by a credit union.
  • Become a member — I have seen this brief membership promotion quite a few times.
  • SIFF 2018 trailer — This clip shows a couple of people becoming friends through the shared experience of SIFF. "Escape the couch!"
  • The Poetess — This documentary is about a Saudi woman poet who makes the finals of a television poetry slam, and uses her fame to speak out for women's rights. It looks like a winner.
  • Ana Mon Amour — This is a Romanian drama about a troubled romance.
  • Thank you, volunteers — This is a cool montage from Shorline College. Time for applause for SIFF volunteers.
  • In-person announcements — SIFF programmer Justine Barda introduces the film, and the director, who returned after the film. She also praised the films The Charmer and Something Useful
  • "Movioke" — This clip from an apparently well-known film includes the line, "It isn't over."

Notes to myself:

SIFF statistics: 40 films (34 features, 6 shorts), 35 time slots, 3 parties. ("J": only two parties; she was busy this morning.)

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