Who: Directed by Léa Mysius
When: 22 March – 15 April
How much: $7 – $20
Not your usual coming-of-age drama, Ava is the unsettling directorial debut from Léa Mysius, coincidentally co-writer of Ismaël’s Ghosts, another opinion-dividing film at this year’s Festival. Ava follows its thirteen-year-old titular character as her postcard-perfect summer holiday in the Medoc is swiftly tainted with tones of distress and reckless abandon. A diagnosis of imminent blindness amplifies Ava’s already moody and mysterious nature – she develops a nonchalant, subversive attitude which we sense hides an anxious and attention-starved girl within. Through games of her own imagination she attempts to teach herself to adapt to her looming condition. These self-led exercises guide Ava to the roguish Juan- and older teenaged boy who eventually lures her in to executing acts of petty crime on his behalf. Our young heroine’s introversion is deepened by her mother’s incompetence as a stable role model and we watch as this influences her thirst for danger.
Ava is beautifully shot on 35mm film which accentuates the warm, rich tones of a seaside summer in the French south. The best scenes were those which appeared dreamlike; montages disclosing Ava’s true fears and desires. She scales a building blindfolded, her memories accumulate into a horrible nightmare, and she fantasises dressing up alongside Juan in body paint and underwear woven from leaves and branches. Together they cheekily stir up mischief with locals along the nude beach.
Additionally, motifs and metaphors referring to Ava’s retinas pigmentosa and its impression on her life are striking from the film’s first scene. A reoccurring jet-black dog leads us, like a sinister omen, to Ava through a happy crowd of beach goers. Ava takes a keen liking to the dog. She also paints circles outlined in black on her bedroom walls- they become smaller and smaller till only pinpoints of white in slathers of darkness remain. These sporadic moments are remarkably beautiful.
Léa Mysius expressed in an interview that she wants Ava’s audience to feel ‘a kind of happiness’ upon leaving the film, ‘but that the memory of the film will stay with them [the audience] and evolve progressively.’* I left this movie feeling challenged, confused and disturbed. Although Ava had gained independence and matured during the film’s course, there was no apparent sign of courage or optimism in the face of her future. She only avoided confronting its reality. Yet, the final scene shows her happy, and maybe this is enough. After mulling over it for a week, I also recognise how the film’s brooding and tense ambiance could plausibly represent contemporary political atmospheres of anxiety and austerity. Still, I wish some central elements of the story had been more fully developed or explored. In summary, Ava is a highly ambitious, experimental film which is probably worth a look… if you’ve got the guts.
3.5 out of 5 stars