The latest from acclaimed British writer-director Clio Barnard is a tumultuous, fiercely affecting working-class love story. A bundle of good humor and nervous energy, Ali (Adeel Akhtar) is a British Pakistani working-class landlord who forges close bonds with his tenants. One day, while picking up one of his tenants’ children from school, he offers a lift to Ava (Claire Rushbrook), an Irish-born teacher and single mother of five. They bond almost instantly through their love of music, though Ali favors the high energy of Buzzcocks and hip-hop while Ava takes refuge in the quieter comforts of Bob Dylan and Karen Dalton. Despite their divergent backgrounds, differences in their stages of life, and the color of their skin, despite the fact of Ali’s failing marriage and Ava’s fraught relationship with her adult and adolescent children, each finds themself irresistibly drawn to the other. But can their mutual desire transcend a barrage of personal obstacles?
ALI & AVA is a film that feels profoundly rooted in lived experience, blending a tender emotional complexity with an at times bracing depiction of trauma and grief. Akhtar and Rushbrook’s finely hued performances speak to the setting’s cultural diversity and tribal loyalties while yielding a vulnerability that’s alternately heart-wrenching and joyous. Their story serves as a reminder that it is sometimes the least likely connections that are the ones most worth pursuing.