Film review: Ali & Ava
A gritty yet uplifting love story set in Bradford
In writer-director Clio Barnard’s Bradford-set love story, Adeel Akhtar plays Ali, a DJ turned landlord who spends his days “flitting around” an impoverished local estate collecting rent from his tenants, but also – because this is not a film by Ken Loach – fixing their kitchen cabinets, said Kevin Maher in The Times. Ali even drives his tenants’ children to school, if he is not too busy raving alone in a car park.
When he forms a bond with widowed teaching assistant Ava (Claire Rushbrook), it seems superficially impossible. Although Ali’s marriage to his wife (Ellora Torchia) has broken down, they still live together and they haven’t told his British-Pakistani family. Meanwhile, Ava’s irrationally angry son (Shaun Thomas) is appalled by her attraction to Ali. But while racism is never far from the surface, Barnard does not dwell on bigotry or violence: her film is ultimately optimistic.
It is not entirely sunny, said Beth Webb in Empire; on the contrary, there are moments when it seems needlessly bleak. But it finds a “startling, exuberant” beauty in the couple’s willingness to broaden their cultural horizons, and in their shared love of music. This is a charming movie, aided by a chemistry between Akhtar and Rushbrook that feels effortless and “utterly captivating”.
More celebratory than Barnard’s 2013 film The Selfish Giant, but with some of its “poetic grit”, Ali & Ava is an “ode to the beauty of Bradford, and the indomitability of its inhabitants”, said Mark Kermode in The Observer. Based on real-life characters, it “uses the transcendent power of song to turn a streetwise tale into a diegetic musical, with genuinely surprising results”.