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The film pits its title character Ava (Mahour Jabbari) against a puritanical and paranoid mother (Bahar Noohian), an absent father (Vahid Aghapoor) and an intrusive school system that lectures the girls on virginity without ever mentioning sex.

3 out of 4 stars

Written by
Sadaf Foroughi
Directed by
Sadaf Foroughi
Mahour Jabbari

Stung by the perception she's a wallflower, high-school student Ava bets another girl that she can score a date with her crush, a boy in her music class.

In Canada, it might make for a minor teen comedy; in Iran, it's a politically tinged domestic tragedy.

Shooting in Tehran for this Canada-Iran-Qatar co-production, Montreal emigre director Sadaf Foroughi pits Ava (a still and upright Mahour Jabbari) against a puritanical and paranoid mother (Bahar Noohian), an absent father (Vahid Aghapoor) and an intrusive school system that lectures the girls on virginity without ever mentioning sex.

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She sets the ever-tightening action in sparse but bright interiors that display a remarkable eye for light and composition to create a social drama reminiscent of Asghar Farhadi's tough work (A Separation, The Salesman).

Read through subtitles, the supporting performances occasionally feel flat and there are holes in the plot, but the film's bitter exposé of life under a theocracy is unforgettable – and won it a spot in TIFF's 2018 "Canada's Top 10" film fest.

Ava opens Jan. 26 in Toronto.

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