Sixteen, socially curious and with aspirations to be a musician, the heroine of Ava -- this imaginatively composed first feature by Sadaf Foroughi -- rebuffs the expectations of her parents and the norms of the strict society around her. After getting dropped off one morning by her mother (Bahar Noohian) at her Tehran high school, Ava (Mahour Jabbari) cavorts with her friends Melody (Shayesteh Sajadi) and Shirin (Sarah Alimoradi). The three girls shuffle their backpacks on and off as they walk the grounds and dish about classmates, suitors, grades. Later, Ava convinces her father (Vahid Aghapoor) to drive her to Melody's house for a purported study session; the girls instead dart for the bedroom mirror, where Melody applies mascara and lipstick to Ava's face. Such acts of rebellion, however seemingly tiny, ignite the rage of the disciplinarians in Ava's life -- in particular her mother. She seeks to halt Ava's violin lessons and even hauls her to an OB-GYN to find out if she's been sexually active. Then there's sternly mannered, white-gloved principal Ms. Dehkhoda (Leili Rashidi), who mixes sugar cubes into her tea when dishing out admonishments. Following what she views as multiple behavioral infractions, Dehkhoda embarks on a vendetta to get Ava expelled.
Flashes of Ava's upbeat, unbridled personality come few and far between: the pluck she exhibits in the schoolyard conversation with her friends, the smile she lets loose upon seeing her made-up face looking back at her. Foroughi's movie surveys how the mounting external pressures in Ava's life bring her to a near–breaking point, and the director has devised (with cinematographer Sina Kermanizadeh) an explosive visual grammar to approximate the depths of Ava's isolation and pain.