A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ava is an Iranian drama about a teen girl (Mahour Jabbari) whose life changes after she rebels against the rules of her parents and school. Perhaps the most troubling aspect to Western viewers will be the way that dating, sex, pregnancy, and girls are viewed. A girl who spends time alone with a boy is taken to a gynecologist to be examined for signs of having had sex (she hasn't); skipping school and having a date with a boy are enough to get a (female) student expelled (the boy doesn't seem to suffer any consequences); and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy is referred to as a girl having "brought a certain circumstance upon herself" (and viewers learn of her attempt to abort the baby in a school bathroom). A mother pinches her daughter's cheek during an argument, one girl slaps another, and an upset girl self-harms by slashing her hand. An angry mother also tells her daughter that she'll kill her and "cut her into little pieces" and will slap her mouth "full of blood." The film is in Persian with English subtitles; swearing includes "f--k," "f--ked," "s--t," "s--thead," "ass," "a--hole," "damn," "bulls--t," "hell," and "bastards."
What's the story?
To most American viewers, the things that AVA (Mahour Jabbari) wants won't seem like such a big deal: to call her friends on the phone and giggle about boys, to wear lipstick, to maybe even spend time with a cute boy she knows. But in her conservative Iranian school -- and to her even more conservative parents -- all of these things are strictly forbidden. The students and faculty whisper about girls who've gone beyond the bounds of what's permissible, and once you become one of the whispered-about, it may already be too late. When teen rebellion meets unyielding authority, something has to bend ... and maybe even break.
Is it any good?
Unrelenting and tense, this story of an average Iranian teen under extraordinary pressure is terrifying in a quiet way that will resonate with Americans of the #MeToo era. Even to Ava's pious classmates, Ava's parents seem unduly strict. Her mom (Bahar Noohian) demands to drop her right at the door of her school and yells at her to go inside rather than meeting her friends at the gates. And when her mom learns that Ava snuck away from her friend Melody's house to hang out in a park with a friend's brother, she's so furious and upset that she drags Ava to an ob-gyn to find out whether her daughter is still a virgin (note: that's not really a thing you can tell by looking at someone). And from there, things just keep getting worse for Ava and her family.
The true horrors of this film are the outrageously (to Westeners, anyway) out-of-proportion consequences for what seem (to us) like very minor transgressions. When Ava spends time with the boy she likes, the two of them don't even touch; when she self-harms at school, her Dolores Umbridge-like principal immediately threatens to expel her from school -- which would, we're told, be utterly ruinous for Ava's future. While it's easy to understand why a teen might be chafing against her parents' rules and restrictions, it's harder to fathom a world in which a young person's fortunes could so quickly fall from promising to annihilated. Ava will make you understand -- and feel strongly for the girl it's about.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Ava's setting. Is it the present? Where do the characters live? How much money do they have? What's their status in their society? Given all these circumstances, do you think Ava and her parents are extraordinary or average?
How does the way the movie portrays teen girls, dating, and related topics compare to what you've seen in American/Hollywood movies? What can we learn about gender representations from watching this film?
A common element in dramatic movies is characters who are isolated in some way and then put under some type of stress. Who is the isolated person (or people) in Ava, and what's the stress they're under? How would the movie change if either the source of stress, or the reasons they're isolated, changed?
Clothing/costumes are often a shortcut to characterization -- we know something about a character by what he or she is wearing. What can you tell about Ava from her clothes? What about her mother's clothing, or that of Ava's principal?
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