British filmmaker Clio Bernard’s latest film Ali & Ava stars Adeel Akthar and Claire Rushbrook as the eponymous characters who embark on a tender yet tumultuous relationship.
Set in Bradford, British-Pakistani Ali is a former DJ and friendly landlord, who has quietly separated from his wife Runa (Ellora Torchia). One day, he gives Irish-born classroom assistant and single mother Ava a lift, from which they soon bond over music. As their feelings for each other grow, they decide to keep their relationship a secret to avoid judgment from the local Pakistani community, as well as Ava’s grown-up children.
From the outset, Ali & Ava focuses on two likeable and friendly people and amid Bradford’s multicultural community, but there is no racial tension. Instead, Bernard highlights an unspoken sense of classism and judgement within the working-class community, which ignites the friction between the characters. Ali is afraid of being shunned due to his ‘quiet’ separation while Ava is judged due to her Irish ancestry and the rough council estate where she lives. Needless to say, their connection causes some contention from both sides, though most of it is from Ava’s son Callum (Shaun Thomas) who sees it as a betrayal to his late father. However, most of this friction is underplayed throughout the film so their relationship causes ripples, rather than waves.
However, both Ali and Ava are a pillar of support to everyone around them, which builds their likeability as not only protagonists but also respective love interests. In a way, their blossoming relationship feels like something that they can both enjoy for themselves, despite feeling forced to publicly hide their feelings – so much so that their first on-screen kiss takes place in secrecy. Through her measured direction, poignant dialogue and pacing, Bernard cleverly brews their relationship slowly and at night to avoid the discerning looks from their respective communities. This not only enhances the tenderness of Akthar and Rushbrook’s performances but allows Ali & Ava to reinforce the protagonists’ different personalities through their drastic change in music, which ranges from fast-paced techno to dulcet country and folk.
Overall, Ali & Ava beautifully captures a mature interracial romance with subtle notes of drama. While the music sporadically evoking infectious joy amid the mellow narrative, Akthar and Rushbook’s performances make it a heartwarming and comforting watch.
Director: Clio Bernard
Stars: Adeel Akthar, Claire Rushbrook, Ellora Torchia, Shaun Thomas
Runtime: 95 minutes