×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Ava’

A young girl coming of age gradually loses her sight in Léa Mysius' beautifully, cleverly shot debut.

With:
Noée Abita, Laure Calamy, Juan Cano, Tamara Cano, Daouda Diakhate, Baptiste Archimbaud, Franck Beckmann, Ismaël Capelot, Valentine Cadic.

The opening scene of Léa Mysius debut feature “Ava” is one of those artfully casual, life-filled tableaux that you could watch forever: On a crowded French beach, in one crammed frame laid out like a colorful 1970s postcard, a dozen little scenarios play out among the sunbathing, splashing, wading, idling holiday-makers. Each beach towel marks a tiny feudal territory. Overweight couples rub suntan lotion into generous flesh. Cackling kids squeal in the sand. These are not the leggy models and neat hotel parasols of the Cote d’Azur; this is a seashore where real people go, a beach for local families. Even so, despite all the busyness, the camera spies a black dog, apparently belonging to no one, cantering through the crowd and alighting on a young girl dozing in the sun. She wakes with a start and stares at the beast with unusual eyes.

It’s the blackness of the dog you notice, so black it’s almost featureless. It’s negative space — a dog-shaped hole in the world. And that’s how it must appear to the girl, Ava (Noée Abita), an unsmiling 13-year old who will shortly discover that her retinitis pigmentosa has advanced more quickly than expected and she will soon go blind. Mysius’ startlingly assured, exquisitely shot “Ava” is a film that doesn’t simply explore the textural possibilities of 35mm film for the hell of it, it makes thematic use of them, to stunning, evocative effect. DP Paul Guilhaume (who is also the co-screenwriter; an unusual pairing of functions that makes sense given the visual nature of the storytelling in a story about vision) creates images of a peculiar richness in which the colors are saturated but the lens seems progressively more stopped-down so that even the brightest sunlight can feel portentous. “She’s blonde and sunny, and I’m dark and invisible” says Ava, self-pityingly comparing herself to her fair-haired love rival. But Ava’s darkness is anything but invisible; it has a glowering luminosity in a film that shines darkly.

Ava is a truculent, troublesome presence, and her emotional weathervane of a mother, Maud (Laure Calamy) who has a baby daughter and no sign of a partner, tries her best to dote on her and be her friend. But there’s a clear lack of understanding between them, and though tearfully promising to make this “the best summer ever” for Ava, Maud is soon engaged in a love affair with a handsome younger man (Daouda Diakhate). When he gently asks Ava why she has no boyfriend, she replies evenly, “Because I’m mean.” And though that seems fairly true (refreshingly, neither Mysius nor the excellent Abita are at all invested in making Ava likable), she soon has a couple of romantic prospects on the horizon.

Mathias (Baptiste Archimbaud) is the clean-cut, uncomplicated son of her sand-surfing instructor: he’s the right boy for the girl she’s supposed to be. But Ava is not who she’s supposed to be and her failing sight seems to make her ever less so. So there is also a wrong boy. Juan (Juan Cano) is the owner of the dog, which Ava steals on a whim, renames “Lupo” and then returns after she discovers Juan injured from a fight and hiding out on a deserted stretch of beach. From here, the film assumes a borderline “Badlands” status. You can practically taste the wild salt tang of the sea air and sense the youthful abandon in their lovers-on-the-run romance — a place that’s is million miles away from the middle-class normalcy she’s irreversibly left behind.

The film is confidently enigmatic — hiding its secrets behind cloudy eyes. Ava’s loss of sight perhaps mirrors her loss of innocence and coming of age. Lupo functions both as a plot device and, like Churchill’s famous “black dog of depression,” as a metaphor for the wild, engulfing darkness that’s closing in on Ava. And the shooting format, if you would, makes a broader formal point: The imminent obsolescence of 35mm film provides a kind of metatextual parallel with Ava’s failing sight. Right up to the slightly unsatisfying ending, “Ava” is both a complex character portrait and a heartsore farewell to the ephemeral images that will be among the last she sees. But the movie is also, in a way, a tribute to shooting on film, which already feels like an act of radical nostalgia. These are the last wild flickers before darkness.

Film Review: 'Ava'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week), May 19, 2017. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: (France) A BAC Films presentation of an F Comme Film and Trois Brigands Prods. production in co-production with Arte France Cinema. (International sales: BAC Films, Paris.) Producers: Jean-Louis Livi, Fanny Yvonnet.

Crew: Director: Léa Mysius. Screenplay: Mysius, Paul Guilhaume. Camera (color, 35mm): Guilhaume. Editor: Pierre Deschamps. Music: Florencia Di Concilio.

With: Noée Abita, Laure Calamy, Juan Cano, Tamara Cano, Daouda Diakhate, Baptiste Archimbaud, Franck Beckmann, Ismaël Capelot, Valentine Cadic.

More Film

  • 'All These Small Moments' Review

    Film Review: 'All These Small Moments'

    The magic of writer-director Melissa B. Miller Costanzo’s “All These Small Moments” can be found within the intimacy of the scenarios, the authenticity of her earnest characterizations, and the accessibility of the actors’ honest performances. In her deftly polished directorial debut, Costanzo dovetails the primary story about a teen’s coming of age with a secondary [...]

  • Bruce Tufeld Dead: Hollywood Agent and

    Hollywood Agent and Manager Bruce Tufeld Dies at 66

    Bruce Tufeld, a Hollywood agent and manager who once repped stars like Rob Lowe, Laura Dern, and Kelsey Grammer, died Tuesday in Los Angeles as a result of complications from liver cancer. He was 66. The son of respected television announcer Richard “Dick” Tufeld and Adrienne Tufeld, Bruce began his career as an assistant at ICM [...]

  • Bruce Dern

    Film News Roundup: Bruce Dern's 'The Lears' Bought by Vertical for February Release

    In today’s film news roundup, Bruce Dern’s “The Lears” and “Angels Are Made of Light” are acquired, Cold War drama “Stanley Cage” is launched and a documentary about Madonna’s early music career gets a release. ACQUISITIONS More Reviews Film Review: 'All These Small Moments' TV Review: HBO's 'Brexit' Vertical Entertainment has acquired North American rights [...]

  • Octavia Spencer Bryce Dallas Howard

    Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard to Reunite for Comedy 'Fairy Tale Ending'

    Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard will reunite for the ensemble comedy “Fairy Tale Ending.” Jim Hecht (“Ice Age: The Meltdown) and Tracy McMillan (“Marvel’s Runaways”) are writing the screenplay. More Reviews Film Review: 'All These Small Moments' TV Review: HBO's 'Brexit' Howard will also produce the Universal movie through her Nine Muses Entertainment alongside [...]

  • Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at DuArt

    Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at New York's DuArt Film Labs, Dies at 88

    Robert Smith, a longtime executive with New York’s DuArt Film Labs, died Jan. 11 in Montvale, N.J. He was 88. Smith spent some 62 years with DuArt, the film processing and post-production facility founded in 1922 in the penthouse of an automobile garage in Midtown. Smith rose to president of DuArt before retiring in 2015. [...]

  • Bird Box

    Los Angeles On-Location Feature Filming Surges 12.2% in 2018

    On-location feature filming in Greater Los Angeles expanded impressively in 2018, gaining 12.2% to 4,377 shooting days, according to FilmL.A. Production activity for feature films rose 15.5% to 1,078 shooting days during the fourth quarter, with 146 days coming from projects receiving California tax credits — including Netflix’s “Bird Box,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content