By Mallory Andrews
“The bird that would soar above the level of plain tradition and prejudice must have strong wings,” the protagonist of Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel The Awakening is advised; “it is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.” Ava (Mahour Jabbari), the teenage title heroine of Sadaf Foroughi’s film, learns this hard lesson when social pressure from her Tehran-based community is nearly the catalyst for a nervous breakdown. Ava’s own awakening comes when she learns that her mother (Bahar Noohian) breached her trust, taking her to a gynecologist to determine the status of her virginity after a clandestine-yet-chaste date with a male classmate. Formerly a conscientious student and an avid violinist, Ava begins to buck against her mother’s increasingly strict rules, especially when she learns her parents may have once been guilty of the same kind of salacious behaviour she’s been suspected of committing.
Foroughi’s shrewd filmmaking uses the frame to advantage: the tightening of Ava’s constraints is matched by the tightening of the mise en scène around her, from the claustrophobic doorways and windows of her home and school to the actual frame of the camera pushing closer and closer in on her face as the film goes on, yielding several moments where Jabbari gazes back into the camera with the same force and power as Jean-Pierre Léaud’s fourth-wall-breaking glance at the end of The 400 Blows.