This review is part of double feature on the film Ava. Please check out Alexandra Hidalgo’s interview with Daniella Daemy, the film’s director.
Ava (2013) UK. Directed by Daniella Daemy. Starring, Arian Bortchelo, Hadi Kermani, Mark Drake, Soudabeh Farronhia, Kave Niku, Donald Slack, Golazin Ardestani, and Ceyda Ali.
Ava, a feature teaser by Swedish Iranian writer and director Daniella Daemy, charts the life of Ava (Arian Bortchelo), a London-based writer of Iranian descent who is also a human smuggler, illegally bringing families across the borders of the Middle East and Europe. Daemy’s press release cites “the broken, the desperate and the hopeful” as Ava’s clientele. But Ava works for a smuggler in Tehran with blood on his hands, and while he is a gangster, Ava has philanthropic motives, which are at odds with her conscience. Jumping from London to Paris, to Istanbul, to Tehran, the film explores the tragedies of illegal migration and displacement. In one scene, an older woman commits suicide in a Paris hotel room, her husband already dead on the bed, “without you never” she says to his corpse, after swallowing a handful of sleeping pills. In Istanbul, a young man reveals the scars on his back, the marks of torture, in a heated exchange, Ava exclaims, “I don’t understand your pain and you don’t understand mine.” Stories of war, dissent, and desperation lurk under the surface of these tableaux, where Ava’s increasing instability punctuates a kaleidoscopic picture of her terrible ambivalence about her job, which is ethically problematic, and her own life, which is complex.
In making a twenty-minute teaser, Daemy seeks to showcase her style, her storytelling, and her talent as a new writer-director to potential funders in order to complete the film. Shooting in several locations requires a fairly significant budget and Daemy has funded this short with her own money. The compelling and emotional teaser is eloquently cut and scripted. “Come from somewhere nice?” asks a London cabbie, while Ava is silent, wracked with angst. This film is not about tourism. Daemy claims David Lynch, Ken Loach, and Mike Leigh as influences, and her direction is strong, using tight close-ups and dramatic cuts to tell a tortuous and tragic story centred around her eponymous protagonist.
Ava is based on a true story and Daniella Daemy weaves the stark political realities of current migrations with the pace and mood of a thriller, bringing an episodic, well-framed aesthetic to the screen. A touch of televisual grit is introduced via Ava’s hard-boiled boyfriend (Mark Drake), a tattooed yet tender Londoner, who, it is revealed later in the teaser, is a policeman. Ava is about secrets and lies and Daemy’s protagonist is flawed and compelling, her inability to live with the guilt of her double life drives the narrative. In the context of British film, this is a story that needs to be told, and Daemy has the talent and experience to do it, she speaks of the ‘schizophrenia of the human condition’ and her film seems drawn from deep personal experience that refuses simplistic renderings of complex realities under the surface of multicultural Europe.