The debut feature from writer-director Saim Sadiq, “Joyland” tells a story of family, love, and identity in contemporary Pakistan. That this is Sadiq’s first film is remarkable because his camera is confident, the acting natural, and together cast and crew convey an openness of experience that is refreshing. This is a neon film full of dull, faded backgrounds and dark alleys accented with bright colored fabrics and light, amusement park rides, and party scenes, and a glimpse at Pakistan’s counter culture.
Haider is the youngest son of an overbearing and widowed father, and brother the more conventionally successful Saleem. They all live together in Lahore, Pakistan, with Saleem’s wife and their daughters, and Haider’s wife Mumtaz. While Haider is gentle, timid, and happy to be a “house-husband,” Mumtaz is career minded and ready to spring to action. Early on the film establishes that, even though this peculiar family structure works well for the needs of everyone involved, the pressure to conform to gender standards is always working on the family. Soon Haider is offered a job as an exotic backup dancer for a live Bollywood-style show, despite his complete lack of experience or talent. He lies to his extended family about the nature of his job, but comes clean with his wife. Their marriage is built on an honest openness about their feelings, and a cozy division of labor that is unacceptable in the society they keep.
That is, until Haider falls for the strong-willed Madame Biba, the transgender woman he dances with at the club. Through this relationship, Haider gets closer to defining his own identity and desires while shutting his wife out. As we see Haider grow more comfortable in his skin, we also witness the ensemble around him struggle against gender-based expectations. Mumtaz is suffocated by her wifely duties, and fading in the face of her husband’s neglect. Biba faces ridicule and danger as a trans person in conservative Pakistan, even as her strength protects them both. Even Haider’s father faces the temptation to set aside the social contract for a chance at happiness. Against the backdrop of conservative patriarchy and religious conviction, everyone must repress their urges and search for meaning in the family structure.
It may be surprising to hear that Pakistan has one of the more progressive transgender laws in the Middle East / South Asian region. The 2018 Transgender Persons Act gave trans people in Pakistan the right to choose their gender identity as they perceived it themselves and the ability to reflect that identity on government papers. This has not erased the struggle of being trans in Pakistan. The well-known model Rimal Ali was attacked recently in Lahore, where this film was set and made. And homosexuality is still a punishable offense in Pakistan, a attitude that is reflected in the film.
“Joyland” was the first Pakistani film to play the Cannes Film Festival where it received an eight-minute standing ovation, and won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize. This prize is given to recognize a landmark event in international cinema. “Joyland” deserves this title. It was also Pakistan’s submission to the Academy Awards, remarkable considering that it was banned for a short time in its home country.
It is an empathetic act to watch film. We watch movies to visit lands we may never see in person, to experience lives we will not live. Joyland’s marketing focuses on the important and revealing relationship between Haider and Madame Biba, and the light it shines on the trans experience in Pakistan. Biba is magnificent. A giant cutout of her is an apt visual element, literally shining her bigger than life essence from the rooftops of the middle-class and strait-laced neighborhood where Haider lives. This is also a film about Mumtaz and Haider’s marriage, and a plea to let people live in their own skin and follow their own path, without restricting movement based on gender alone. It is a film about feeling invisible, and being seen.
And there’s dancing!
Friday, April 28, 6 pm
Sunday, April 30, 12:30 & 3 p.m.
$12 | $8 Speed members
Kentucky- Made Films
You may have heard that Louisville and Kentucky at large has instituted tax breaks that are making the state more filmmaking-friendly. The Ethan and Maya Hawke vehicle “Wildcat” is the most high profile (so far) of these projects, but look for many more Kentucky made films over the next months and years.
One such film is “Going Nowhere,” a broad meta-comedy about filmmaking made in Oldham County. Izzy, Diana and a behind-the-scenes crew take a road trip from LA to KY to shoot their feminist slash environmentalist magnum opus on a family farm. Personality clashes and sexual frustration are the driving force behind the comedy, and the fact that all the actors are friends who are playing a heightened version of themselves lends to the Christopher Guest mockumentary flavor.
This is Izzy Shill’s feature film debut, made in response to the limitations set by the pandemic, and produced in part by Louisville’s own The Group Entertainment and Lunacy production companies. The mumblecore influences show, and the light mockery of their own generation that Shill and company bring to the table is all in good fun. Tune in on your favorite VOD device and see how they showcase the farmlands some of us call home.
Available VOD now