Iran is historically famous for its work in philosophy and poetry brought attention from worldwide by taking their work on films. Iran is known to be one of the many countries which highlight its great artwork in film-making with crucial components that aesthetically and thematically fed. The curiosity rises as critiques look into the elements and inspirations Iranian film-makers achieve that allow them to create such masterpieces.
For quick background information about the country, Iran is known for its restriction system imposed by the Islamic government after the revolution held in 1979. Imposed restrictions led artists to express their struggles and perspectives across the country. Limitations led them to grow their artistic sense in a different way of projecting as a form of film. Oftentimes, under the pressure of the government and the internalized censorship rules, it remains unconscious and normal to Iranians. Artists have to come up with creative ways of expressing their views of society, allowing people to see the comprehensive reality of the world without getting in trouble. By taking the risk in bringing a whole new view of the society and life struggles in Iran, people outside of the nation can gain knowledge by being exposed to the new idea and concept that exists in a world they often cannot reach.
“Ava”, an Iranian Movie directed by Sadaf Foroughi from Canada is one of the foreign-based Iranian movies filmed in Tehran and funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Quebec Council for the Art, and the Doha Film Institute. The story is based on the director’s own experiences as a young girl’s coming of age in a society of traditions and restrictions.
The young girl protagonist, Ava experiences intense personal intrusion within the interaction with her strict parents and people from her school and friends. At the beginning of the film, the story tells a normal teenage girl’s life, who dreams to be a professional violinist. The story starts to get complicated once news spreads through the community about a teenage girl getting pregnant. The worried mother of Ava and her teachers begin to hold strict regulations on Ava against her suspicious behavior involving her male musical accompanist named Nima. Ava gets caught secretly meeting up with Nima and will be forced to cut her friendship with her close friend Melody who encouraged her in the process. With her mother not understanding Ava being a bright and well-focused girl, she takes her to a gynecologist to make sure she is still a virgin. Ava’s life starts to take a turn once she overhears gossip relating to her parent’s past with pregnancy before marriage. After many rumors and learning society’s negative view on the idea of unsanctioned pregnancy leads her to identify herself as an “unwanted child”. Ava then begins to get concerned about her surroundings including how her friends and parents are viewing her as. However, she then begins to rebel against society for the idea of putting the fault on the child of ‘rule breaker’. A simple and innocent meeting with Nima put her in a position to be shamed by her mother and her school faculties. Overall, Ava’s challenge in the story is to find her voice and choice. The major aspect of making the movie powerful relates to the idea that “Ava” is excluding some traditional Iranian cinema styles which are silence rules, concepts of innocence, and the camera works to deliver it is erroneous found in Iranian society.
Under the influence of the Islamic government, the Iranian artist’s works are limited and prevented from expressing as much as they can. For most artists, it becomes a struggle to create a film with direct messages showing the social issues in Iran. The action of artists providing information regarding the Iranian government or the Islamic teachings is considered illegal which by ignoring so will come with the consequence of certain penalties including imprisonment. Iranian government tries its best to take control of information flow which may possibly switch people’s opinions or thoughts to any arising issue. Therefore, for most Iranian film-makers or artists in general, the work of expressing their voice or reflecting their work to form activity is risky. This condition allows Iranian artists to be more creative to indirectly include messages regarding what they have to say. As a result, their work comes off clever but unclear in the sense of what the message in the film is really about. Every social issue reflected in movies is not directly delivered but looks more like a side story rather than being the center of attention. The work mostly leads audiences to pick up hints and think more critically to figure out the main message hidden in the story. However, in the case of Ava, the message is well delivered without being hidden. Considering the movie is laid toward foreign audiences, unlike traditional Iranian movies, it is well expressed and stuck to its point and the issue. The movie provided an opportunity for the young girl with a voice and her opinion intended to be heard to the viewer, which would barely be seen in Iranian movies.
Another important aspect of Ava being a non-traditional Iranian movie is the concept of themes that are more realistic. Traditional Iranian movies value childlike innocence, poetic elegance, or even moral values. Ava overturns these with its story and the characteristic of the protagonist. Ava is a girl who is considered innocent but far from childlike innocence. She is portrayed as a strong-willed girl with wonders in her head about the wrong moral value that society holds. The movie creates a realistic view of how the real innocence looks in the corrupt society of Iran for projecting women who are not virgins before marriage as a ‘disgrace’. The movie gave her a voice that can be heard loudly. With the aid of cinematography, the movie shows her pain and leaves the audience to face the pain Ava is experiencing. The movie is not about an innocent childlike girl who lacks an idea of the reality of the world and sits back to not face the harshness waiting in her life and would rather listen to her parents to take control over her life. She is strong and willed to take her life in her matter. At the end of the film, she is described as a strong young girl with a passion who decides to take the lead of her own life choices and make it happen.
Camera works and cinematographies used in the movie are very foreign-influenced. The inspirations and methods are unique in ways that leave the audience with a feeling of peeking into Ava’s life rather than being involved. To create the sense, the camera placement of ‘still’ is most effective.
The still camera placement creates nice depth in the frame to reflect the emotion of the characters, such as fears and loneliness. In the scene where Ava’s mother took her to the gynecologist, the frame on the screen nicely produced the nervousness of her mother. The camera is on the still, capturing all the movements of both Ava and her mother.
However, the technique is most evident in the scene where the mother found out about her daughter lying to pretend to study with Melody but was out in the city.
The camera focus is on the building where Melody lives and the audience can see as Ava walks toward it. Ava sees her mother arguing with her friend’s mother about their irresponsible behavior. At one point the camera setting turns into the still and captures the moment of her mother noticing Ava standing down the stairs with her red lipstick on. The scene captures the movement of all the characters at the moment. From Ava stepping back against her body on the wall, her mother aggressively walking up to Ava, Melody and her mother nervously following her from the stairs. All the interaction was shot in the one-minute shot.
Another example is in the scene of Ava’s bus ride to return to Melody’s house. Capturing her playful charming expression switching to a nervous expression. The still camera setting works best to capture different emotions in a frame within a short time. The technique is very new in Iranian movies. The still camera technique seems to create a fresh sense in the Iranian movie. The technique of still might have an effect in creating the elegance and calm atmosphere. It is simple and less dramatic to let the scene speak to the audience. Less editing in the scene is effective in speaking of making it less dramatic. Even in intense scenes, the still effect aids the scene to create tension with more calmness to have the audience maintain their mind clear and less busy with what to look at on the screen.
In short, compared to the typical movies released or published in Iran, Ava contains its own style and different influences which makes the film an eye-catching piece. From the aesthetics found in cinematographies to the storytelling style, all in one work of Sadaf Foroughi explains a lot of passion of hers crawling her way up to expose the real view of the society in Iran. Traditional Iranian movies do seem more sketchy and intentional in the term of sending messages through stories, however, Ava does not play games and is showing its confidence in providing viewers with a specific clear idea of the message. Ava is unique in terms of thinking about how the movie is avoiding or ignoring some traditional Iranian film-making styles to create its own expressive storytelling to reflect on the corrupted idea in society.