Taking inspiration from myriad coming of age films but with a large splash of Terence Malick’s Badlands mixed in for good measure, Ava tells the story of the eponymous character, played by Noée Abita, a 13-year old girl who is told early on that she is suffering from a degenerative disease which will result in a complete lack of sight. Armed with this information, and with a mother (Laure Calamy) who alternates between profession deep affection for her daughter and enjoying a dalliance with a younger man while on a summer break, Ava decides to steal a dog starting a journey which takes her to a relationship with a seemingly star-crossed lover, Juan (Juan Cano).
Mysius’ film has the hallmarks of a first time filmmaker on it, for both good and bad. The visual language of the film is both rather nailed-on metaphor but also rather striking. The opening of the film is a scene rich in colour which soon has your attention taken by a large black dog running around a beach scene, this element of darkness taking your attention being aped throughout as Ava’s sight continues to get worse. The lush visuals of the film’s first half are replaced with rather more dank, grey and somewhat squalid surroundings in the second, contrasting with the young love Ava finds herself experiencing.
This debut feature contains all the heart and vigour of someone telling their first full-length cinematic story. It is about abandoning those around you on the chance of happiness with someone society says you shouldn’t be with, and the sheer life and vitality given to Ava by Abita is a winning reason for why the film works as well as it does. Even if some of her decisions seem stupid, it is always believable, this is a 13-year old girl hurling herself head-first into the situations she finds herself in and while you may not agree, the empathy illicited through the performance is winning even if the narrative itself seems to confuse what we are supposed to think of Juan, something that rather muddies the final actions of the story.
It is also a film which is very “European”, there’s a surprising amount of on-screen nudity from Abita, who was 17 at the time of filming, and while this sense of physical abandon is brave of her, if it is a metaphor for shedding herself of her previous life, it is an obvious one which also gives off the tang of someone maybe wanting to push buttons a touch, to a more conservative audience, it could prove problematic.
Ava is very much worth your time though in a way it would have been interesting to see this if it were a second or third feature. With a strong central performance and a goregous 35mm based look it masks over the cracks with the narrative and obviousness of its themes well. This isn’t a perfect film but its a memorable one.