Ava (Jabbari) is a quiet, bright teenager in Tehran who begins to rebel against the strictures imposed by her judgmental mother Bahar (Noohian). Her architect father (Aghapoor) is too often absent or unwilling to challenge his fiery spouse. Unfortunately, Ava’s small acts of defiance only serve to make Bahar more angry and intolerant. Ava loves playing the violin, but her mother complains music is no career path for a woman. Ava arranges an innocent date with a boy she knows from music class, and learning of it, Bahar drags her to the doctor to make sure Ava’s virginity is intact. Will Ava ever be able to escape this oppression, which comes from her mother but also the society that bred her?
While adolescents the world over experience much the same growing pains and desires, this affecting, eye-opening film suggests that in certain more restrictive societies, the process can be downright torturous, particularly for females. Still, we sense Bahar’s harsh treatment of her daughter is driven as much by fear as cruelty, that she too is a victim. In the title role, the young Jabbari projects barely controlled frustration with subtlety and skill. We ache for Ava, and wonder whether she’ll ever find the freedom and self-expression that we take for granted in the West.