From writer-director Lea Mysius, Ava tells the story of a 13 year old girl who is told she will soon lose her sight, and who is determined to find love before she does. 

Written and directed by Léa Mysius, Ava tells the story of a 13 year old girl who has her holiday by the sea ruined by the news that she will soon lose her sight. However this is no quaint bildungsroman, no coming-of-age journey into adulthood that sees our young, headstrong heroine, Ava (Noée Abita), grow into her own skin.

Nope Abita as Ava
Noée Abita as Ava. Photo: F Comme Film, Trois Brigands Productions

Abita is a find. 17 at the time of filming, her 13 year old Ava is a mysterious young thing; dark, in personality, looks and attitude. Living with her hapless but well-intentioned mother (Laure Calamy), whose concerns relate more to finding a seaside fling and leaving Ava in charge of the baby, she is locked into a fractious dialogue with her mother. Like all teenagers, she is tetchy, angsty, and all too keen to be left alone. It’s this that is best portrayed in the film, rather than the love affair between Ava and her older, gypsy bad boy, Juan (Juan Cano).

As in the tradition of romances, it will come to nobody’s surprise that Ava’s love interest is an older man, but in reality it’s rather hard to watch a 13 year old girl (Abita was legal when the film was shot) appear topless in numerous scenes, not to mention her sexual relationship with Juan. Juan is rather a ghost in the film, his appearance makes little impression at all, and renders him thoroughly unlikeable.

This is no Romeo and Juliet, however. With Juan, Ava begins to have her eyes opened to the world as she embarks upon a crime spree that begins with stealing his dog, Lupo, and moves on to chasing elderly nudists up and down the beach with a gun pointed to their heads in order to steal their posessions, including a motorbike. Surrealist shots pepper the narrative, from eyeballs in the mouth to Ava’s repulsion at her mother’s sexuality. The story is aided in its journey through virtue of being shot on 35mm film, that allows depth of colour and provides Ava’s loss of sight with a stylish counterpoint.

Ava and Juan ride their stolen motorbike
Ava and Juan ride their stolen motorbike into the sunset. Photo: F Comme Film, Trois Brigands Productions

The visuals are complemented by Florencia Di Concilio’s tense score, and a range of more upbeat tunes that remind us that Ava is in fact a teenage girl, rather than a murderer on a crime spree. It’s this tension that unfortunately peppers the plot, which Mysius plays rather fast and loose with as the film comes to its second act. The surrealist tale of a young woman and her relationship with an older man and her wayward mother and baby sister soon gives way to something rather more unrealistic. This would have worked better had it been retained the same tone from the start, but the shift when it happens is rather abrupt. The final scene depicting carnage at a gypsy wedding feels rather like a forced conclusion.

Ava is a strong first statement from Mysius. If she rather gets carried away with her story, there’s no denying that Ava is visually stunning, and delivers a powerful indication of what is to come from the young director, and the stories she has yet to tell.

★★★☆☆

Ava is released on MUBI from 22nd December. 

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