For her third feature, the unconventional romance “Ali & Ava,” director Clio Barnard returns to the same working-class English community in Bradford she has been depicting since her debut, “The Arbor.” Speaking with film critic Peter Debruge from the Variety Lounge at BFI London Film Festival, Barnard explained why she feels such a connection to characters like Ali and Ava, who were inspired by people she met while shooting her three previous films in the same area.
“It’s near my hometown. It’s really close. So it was kind of the nearest big place when I was growing up,” said Barnard, who was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2014. “But it was really Andrea Dunbar who is a playwright who wrote a play called ‘The Arbor.’ It was really her who kind of took me to that very specific bit of Bradford.”
“I think really it was through meeting people, people that I got to know and people that I got to know really well over the last 12 years, and it felt important to me that those stories and people and that community was represented on screen,” said Barnard.
Half-jokingly referring to the film as a “social realist musical,” Barnard explained how she approached the use of pop songs — Ali likes dance music, Ava prefers folk — to portray different human experiences.
“I only wanted to use source music or diegetic music,” said Barnard. “I didn’t want to use tracks. It sort of also slightly came out of the workshops, and we were doing a lot of sort of swapping of tunes, so it partly came out of that but, you know, partly came out of my own experience or experiences of falling in love.”
Additionally, Barnard elaborated on how the characters’ contrasting musical styles and the way they slowly warm to one another’s preferences allowed for connection to take place on the screen.
“They have this kind of allergic reaction to each other’s music tastes. And then he encourages her to get up on the sofa and then listening to separate tracks and singing to them,” said Barnard. “So it’s this kind of sounds terrible in the room, sounds wonderful in their heads. So it’s kind of through this joyful playful kind of behaving like children in their middle age – you know, middle-aged people behaving like kids – they find this connection.”