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#TIFF22 Review: Joyland (Special Presentations)

September 19, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 8th to 18th.

Pakistani filmmaker Saim Sadiq makes his feature debut with Joyland, firmly establishing himself as a very exciting new voice in international cinema. Adapted from his 2019 short film Darling, Sadiq’s film, which was awarded the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes as well as the Queer Palm, explores gender roles and sexual identity in modern Pakistan.

Haider Rana (Ali Junejo) is a married but unemployed man whose wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq) has a job, which is a sore point with his father (Salmaan Peerzada), who wants Haider to be more like his older brother Saleem (Sohail Sameer). Instead, Haider is a stay-at-home husband who has taken on the more stereotypically feminine roles of cooking, cleaning, and helping care for his brother and sister-in-law’s (Sarwat Gilani) two young daughters.

In one upsetting but powerful scene, Haider’s father asks him to slaughter a goat by slitting its throat, which he can’t bring himself to do, so his wife takes the knife and does it herself, to the disdain of his father. Pressed to find a job to get out of the house and earn money, Haider gets work as part of a dance troupe, and becomes a backup dancer for Biba (Alina Khan), a trans woman. He keeps his involvement with the troupe a secret from his family, and ends up emotionally torn when he starts to develop feelings for Biba.

Sadiq, who co-wrote the nuanced screenplay with Maggie Briggs, does a good job of building up to the emotional ending, showing the cascading effects of homophobia, transphobia and sexual repression in a traditional society. He lays the groundwork to ensure that we are engaged enough in the characters to be involved in their story, with Haider serving as a refreshingly complex protagonist who is believably portrayed by Junejo.

One of the most impressive aspect of Joyland, aside from the naturalistic performances of its cast, is the cinematography by Joe Saade, with a visual language to the film that is quite compelling and really sets it apart. Saade not only does an excellent job of shooting the film’s vibrant dance sequences, but finds interesting framing choices that enrich the dialogue scenes as well. The result is a visually dynamic and highly promising debut from Sadiq.

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