Of South Asian descent, Ali (Adeel Akhtar) is a former DJ with vague musical ambitions and a day job managing the modest houses his family rents. Born in Britain to Irish parents, Ava (Claire Rushbrook) is a cash-strapped school assistant who has four children and five grandchildren. The two meet when Ali brings Sofia (Ariana Bodorova), the daughter of two of his tenants, to the school where Ava works. They bond over their common affection for the little girl, a member of the large Slovak community in Bradford.
Ali and Ava are more or less single. Ali shares a house with his ex-wife, Runa (Ellora Torchia), but she plans to move. Ava’s physically abusive husband is dead, although she has a house full of children and grandchildren. Her son Callum (Shaun Thomas, who appeared in Barnard’s 2013 “The Selfish Giant”) is a major obstacle to a potential romance. He was first seen dancing to Bollywood music on an exercise TV show, but reacts furiously when he finds his mother with Ali.
Ali and Ava are based on real people Barnard met while making previous films, and their characters were developed in conjunction with the actors. The drama’s documentary-style cinematography is equally naturalistic. Ole Bratt Birkeland shot the film with a handheld camera in available light, giving it an impromptu feel (and lots of scenes that are literally very dark).
The film’s soundtrack also feels like a documentary, with everyday ambient sounds unsweetened by a score. Still, there’s plenty of music, most of it illuminating the main characters. Ali is featured as he dances atop his car to Sylvan Esso’s electro-pop”Radiowhich recurs throughout the film. Later, Ava and her daughter go to a karaoke bar to sing “dirty old town», a folk tune associated with pogue. The two songs are very different in style, but Ali and Ava’s musical tastes sometimes converge: they both feast when the Buzzcocks”Boredom“rings from a car radio, and Ali learns Bob Dylan’s” himselfMom, you were on my mind.”
For all its concern with authenticity, “Ali & Ava” shares something with glibber and more glamorous cinematic romances: it takes the attraction between the two lovers for granted and never really establishes why they are so attracted to one. towards the other. What’s most satisfying about the movie is getting to know Ali and Ava separately. They’re blessed with warmth, depth, and credibility by Akhtar and Rushbrook, veteran supporting actors who are rarely cast in lead roles. Ali and Ava may not be entirely compelling as lovers, but they’re both exceptionally likable as individuals.
Not rated. In the theaters of the region; available August 23 on Amazon and Apple TV Plus. Contains foul language, threats of violence and sexual innuendo. 94 minutes.