SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! On paper, the drama Ayar must not sound all that original or unique. Floyd Russ’ feature-length directorial debut is the story of Ayar (Ariana Ron Pedrique), a wayward mother longing to rekindle her relationship with her daughter Jasmine (Calliah Sophie Estrada). Attempting to make it as a singer in Las Vegas, her life crumbles once COVID-19 shutters all the casinos, bars, and clubs. Now, she’s working as a housekeeper, though her mom, Renata (Vilma Vega), who’s been raising Jasmine, is not allowing Ayar to see her child.
However, Russ, and his co-writers/stars Pedrique and Vega, have much more on their mind than a simple tale of reconciliation. See, as the story progresses, characters, such as Foster (Henry Foster Brown), directly break the fourth wall by telling Ayar that a camera is filming her. From there, real life begins to bleed into the fictional narrative as audition tapes, Zoom calls, and personal stories from the real lives of the cast take hold. So, is Ayar the fictional story of a mother coming to terms with her failures as a parent, or is it the tale of making this movie, and how the cast and crews’ lives have led them to be involved in the production?
It is both, and as overwhelming as that seems, the director is able to, mostly, balance those two thoughts and draw on themes of self-perception, actualization, and following one’s dreams, drawing parallels to the real people and their fictional counterparts. The editing eases viewers into the genre-defying, meta-moments at first, before they are intentionally inundated with information overload. This all climaxes into a searing, though slightly hard to follow, conclusion.
“…a wayward mother longing to rekindle her relationship with her daughter…”
At the heart of it all are the performances, as Ayar would die if these characters were not sympathetic. Pedrique is fantastic as the put-upon now housekeeper, trying to figure out life. Once her real persona shines, though, which is when she’s first heard singing, she still commands the screen. As the determined, frustrated mom/grandmother, Vega’s desire to keep Jasmine safe at all costs, even from her mom, is easily understood and relatable. As Vega becomes more of a focus, not the character of Renata, her story is empathetic, and she tells it with the appropriate gravitas. Calliah Sophie Estrada shares strong chemistry with both of them, so their desire to be there for her makes total sense.
Russ directs the film with confidence, positive the meta-moments will not break the spell the hypnotic cinematography and arresting score put the audience under. Despite the occasional hiccup in getting across all the personal accounts (the massive overlapping montage is a bit too much to fully taken in), the director’s faith is not misplaced. The themes of discovering one’s self and what is truly important, as reiterated in an amazing ending monologue, are highlighted by both the fictional story and the audition tapes in a very powerful, moving way.
The basic plot of Ayar has been told before, but never like this. The meta-narrative mixes well with the fictional account, as both explore similar themes. The acting from all involved is stellar, and Russ has helmed a gorgeous production. For those looking for a truly unique experience, then this drama will fit the bill perfectly.
Ayar screened at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
"…very powerful, moving..."