Ali and Ava
Out Now in Australian cinemas.
* * * 1/2
Clio Barnard’s third fiction feature is a beautifully observed middle-aged relationship drama set specifically and precisely in Bradford in the UK. There, Ali (Adeel Akhtar) and Ava (Claire Rushbrook) meet in the turmoil of daily life. Each carry relationship baggage, emotional and physical, but, importantly, both are lonely: these are two characters who need each other. Barnard shows constant, enormous compassion not only for both of them but for all the supporting characters, some of whom aren’t tremendously likeable at first encounter. The screenplay doesn’t break new ground – this is highly trod territory, British regional social realism through and through – but the direction is intricate and thoughtful and the performances tremendous.
* * * 1/2
The Safdie brothers’ influence on this tense social-realist drama, written and directed by Eric Gravel and starring Laure Camaly, is undeniable, but that’s no bad thing; this takes their pressure-cooker style and applies it to a more universal situation. Calamy, as a single mother living outside Paris dealing with the disruption to her commute during a train strike, is sensational; she’s right at the front of the pack of screen actresses now. Funny she won her César for Antoinette in the Cévennes rather than a dramatic role like this, but c’est la vie. It’s a well-made film, although the constant pressures applied to Julie run the risk of becoming parodic (I’m looking at you, birthday present thing) and all too much. One thing’s for sure: it’ll make you feel less bad about not living in Paris.
* * *
Penelope Cruz. Antonio Banderas. Oscar Martînez. In a satire about moviemaking. Boy, was I excited. And boy, was I disappointed. With these actors, this script, as flawed and obvious as it is, may have worked. But the direction is so heavy-handed and the editing so labored, the film is devoid of energy. Scenes drag, speeches drag, points are repeatedly pounded on the head. Somehow in the midst of it Cruz gives a great performance, and the framing is occasionally nice.