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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Ali & Ava is a film that stands out for its light, elegance and evanescence. Adeel Akhtar is Ali, a likable, happy-go-lucky British Asian in Bradford whose family is well-off. They own a number of properties, and Ali is the rent collector. In this role, he an affable friend to the tenants and their families. Ali sees himself as a frustrated DJ and a musician - his house has a converted “mancave” where he keeps his extensive vinyl collection. But Ali has a terrible secret: his wife Runa (played by the excellent Ellora Torchia) has outgrown her puppyish husband intellectually and they are separating. Rather than confess this shaming fact to his family, the couple is still living together.
Barnard creates very watchable set-pieces where nothing of any great narrative import appears to be happening. In one such scene, Ali gives Ava a lift to a dodgy neighbourhood and they are set on by kids throwing stones at the car. Ali gets out and miraculously defuses the situation by turning up his car’s music system and gets them all dancing. The scene might have come over as a bit far fetched, but Barnard makes it part of her optimist aesthetic.
The film also does not skate over the fact that Ali is sleeping with Ava, but their relationship is treated matter of factly, without any prurience, and yet not fully without romanticism. You see them waking up together in bed, as if they are a married couple who have been together for years years. There is no sensuality, exactly, but there is gentleness and tenderness.
In its understated way, the film is a celebration of the miracle of connection. Ava and Ali initially communicate through musical modes, but these signals reveal a deeper need: two warm hearts that need a place to share that warmth. It’s here Barnard extracts gold, through the tactful, intelligent exploration of the convoluted layers of contradictory feelings with which we all deal daily.