Home Ali & Ava + Q&A

Ali & Ava + Q&A (15)

Cast: Adeel Akhtar, Claire Rushbrook, Ellora Torchia, Shaun Thomas
Genre: Romance
Author(s): Clio Barnard
Director: Clio Barnard
Release Date: 04/03/2022 (selected cinemas)
Running Time: 94mins
Country: UK
Year: 2021

Former DJ Ali still lives with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Runa in a home they hoped would be filled with the laughter of children. He rents a house to Slovakian parents and kindly collects their six-year-old daughter Sofia from school in his car. During one rain-lashed pick-up, he meets Sofia's teacher Ava, a widow with an emotionally demanding grown-up son called Callum. Ali offers to drive Ava home to her housing estate and escape the downpour. A connection is unexpectedly formed.


LondonNet Film Review
Ali & Ava (15)

Spectres of the past haunt a blossoming new relationship in writer-director Clio Barnard’s tender and warmly observed romance filmed on location in Bradford. Infused with the indefatigable spirit and earthy humour of local communities, Ali & Ava charts an unlikely meeting of love-starved minds who have very different cultural, romantic and musical outlooks (he dances on his car’s roof rack to the pulsing beat of electro while she’s a fan of country and folk…)

Barnard’s script slowly dismantles the central characters’ heavily fortified emotional defences, providing Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook with richly drawn, nuanced roles with plentiful peaks and troughs until a largely conventional final act that seeks to salve wounds that Ali and Ava are clearly sporting from the mist-shrouded opening frames. Their on-screen chemistry goes from pleasant simmer to furious boil without feeling forced.

Shaun Thomas, memorable as ill-fated jailbird Gerry Roberts on Emmerdale, is compelling as Ava’s overly protective son, crippled by grief a year after his father’s death and aggressively resisting the notion of a new man in the family home. Naturalistic supporting performances, particularly from younger cast, recall Barnard’s exquisite 2013 film The Selfish Giant and reinforce her ability to weave heartfelt drama into the believably frayed fabric of everyday life.

Former DJ Ali (Akhtar) lives with soon-to-be-ex-wife Runa (Ellora Torchia) in a home they hoped would be filled with the laughter of children. The couple haven’t worked out how to break the news of their separation to Ali’s mother, who lives on the same street. “It’s like flatmates,” Ali jokes feebly to Runa, who knows the current living arrangement is neither healthy nor sustainable.

Ali rents properties, including one that is home to a Slovakian family and he kindly collects their six-year-old daughter Sofia (Ariana Bodorova) from school in his car. During one rain-lashed pick-up, he meets Sofia’s classroom assistant Ava (Rushbrook), a widowed “mother of four and grandmother five times over” with a grown-up son Callum (Thomas), who lives at home with a baby daughter and is angrily processing the death of his father, Paul.

Ali offers to drive Ava home to her estate where kids notoriously throw stones at passing vehicles, and a connection is unexpectedly formed between lost souls. As Ali learns about the late husband’s extremist beliefs, he asks Ava: “If Paul were here, would he kick me head in?” Her nervous silence speaks volumes.

Ali & Ava is a heart-warming tonic that preaches familiar life lessons (acceptance, understanding, faith) without belabouring the personal growth necessary for the central duo to drag themselves out of their respective ruts. Akhtar’s impeccable comic timing endears us instantly to his garrulous and hyperactive people-pleaser, who admits he always goes from nought to 70 without pausing for breath. Thankfully, Barnard’s delightful film applies gentle pressure to the brakes, when required.

– Sarah Lee


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