SIFF Double Feature – Kiss & Spell and Ava
Kiss & Spell: Directed by Stephane Gauger, Kiss & Tell is a Vietnamese language remake of the Korean film Spellbound. (Which I have not seen, but am probably going to check out now I’ve seen this one.) Tung (Ngo Kien Huy) is a successful magician who is inspired to create a new act by a young woman who does not smile at one of his street performances. He is drawn to this mysterious spectator, Phuong (Tran Thi Nha Phuong), and hires her to perform in his new act. Tung seemingly has it all – a successful career, a beautiful model girlfriend, and a hobby making tasty jam. However, even though his act is horror-based, he is terrified of ghosts. Which is unfortunate, because spirits seem to follow Phuong and anyone who gets close to her. She has become socially isolated because of it, and as she and Tung get drawn closer together, the ghost of a beloved friend seems determined to keep them apart.
This is a light romantic comedy with touches of the supernatural. Normally, I prefer things the other way around, but I enjoyed quite a bit of what I found here. (There is some mild transphobic and homophobic-based humor though which was uncool. It didn’t ruin the movie for me, but it did take me out of the story while it was happening.) The humor is slapsticky and the love kinda cheesy, but I let myself have fun with this one. It’s sweet and melodramatic and likely to hit the spot for those who are looking for something to cleanse their palate after watching several serious SIFF dramas. The supernatural elements are mild; even if white-faced girl ghosts with long black hair freak you out, the one here is pretty tame. Also, Phuong’s wardrobe is off the hook. She’s got this boho thing going on that contrasts nicely with the more flashy outfits of the other female characters. There were only a couple of items I didn’t covet for myself. (And now I have some more things to add to my summer sewing queue.)
Final Grade: B –
Kiss & Spell plays at SIFF Cinema Uptown on May 23rd and Lincoln Square on May 25th.
Ava: High School student Ava (Mahour Jabbari) is like any other girl in Tehran; she works hard at school, practices her violin, hangs out with her girlfriends, and is preparing for University. Her mother (Bahar Noohian) is a doctor who has seen the worst of what the world has to offer, and has attempted to shield Ava from the horrors outside their home. Unfortunately, her care looks more like control, and Ava’s life is highly restricted. Nothing she wants or does is terribly scandalous, but in a world where gossip can ruin her life, everything has much more importance than it should. When she attempts to win a bet with her friends and meet with a young man alone, her mother discovers her deception and takes her to a gynecologist for an exam to check on her virginity. Ava is incensed by this, and begins to act out, convincing her mother to push Ava further into the cage she is so desperately trying to escape from. Once Ava can no longer maneuver, she begins to crumble bit by bit.
Directed by Sadaf Foroughi, Ava is deep study about how women are often complicit in the oppression of other women. Ava’s mother is so afraid of what will happen to her daughter that she attempts to control every minute of her day; the headmistress at Ava’s school is more concerned about the reputation of her institution than the well being of a student who is obviously having a hard time, and Ava’s friends are quick to inform on her or cast her out lest they become tainted through association. There is no place for her to exist without pressure, and even her loving father is too involved with his work to stand up and advocate for her. It’s hard to watch Ava get backed into a corner, especially since she commits only the mildest of infractions. She finds herself lying all the time, but only because there is no way for her to commit minor rule infractions without series consequences. I wish the film had a stronger resolution, because there is no catharsis to be had from the ending, but it fits within the general tone of this film. The drama lies in the conversations between the characters and not in most of the events that happen. It’s beautifully shot, but I would have liked it to be a little shorter. However, it is well worth a watch for those who are into character-driven dramas.
Final Grade: B
Ava plays at Lincoln Square on May 23rd and at SIFF Cinema Uptown on May 24th.