Cannes 2022: 'Joyland' is One of the Finest Discoveries of the Fest
by Alex Billington
May 30, 2022
As a passionate cinephile, there's nothing like the elation that comes with stumbling across a film you didn't know much about beforehand, falling completely head over heels in love with it by the end of a screening. Right from the first few ghostly frames of this film, I knew it was something special, and it became more endearing as the story went on. Now that I've seen it, I need to talk about how great this film is. Joyland is the feature debut of the Pakistani filmmaker Saim Sadiq, who has confidently and defiantly established himself with this one film as an exceptionally talented artist that we need to support as he continues making more films. For now, Joyland will be his calling card and it's an absolutely magnificent and enlightening feature about gender roles and how society is evolving across generations. It's one of the finest discoveries of the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and I can't wait for audiences around the world to get their chance to see it.
The simplest way to introduce Joyland is to say that it's a film from Pakistan, set in the city of Lahore, about the sexual awakening of a man who falls for a trans woman. However, it's so much more complex and rich than that, and attempting to describe the film in words is nearly impossible. Joyland is about a Pakistani family, living under the stubborn patriarchal rule of the eldest father, who commands all of his children and their wives. The story focuses on Haider (Ali Junejo), one of his sons, who has an arranged marriage with Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq). The family wants her to have a baby, but she's not actually interested, preferring work over a home life. Haider is the opposite. But this goes against the gender roles that society maintains, especially in a country like Pakistan. Haider is given a job opportunity so he takes it, a chance to get out of the home, only to discover he will be a background dancer for a trans fashionista performing at a seductive dance saloon. He's not into it at first, but opens up when he meets Biba (Alina Khan) - who entrances him.
Everything about this film feels like a real fresh of breath air. I want to watch it again as soon as possible. It's a remarkably fresh, clever, vibrant, entrancing, modern look at gender dynamics as experienced through the life of one man in Pakistan learning to open himself up to the possibilities of love and self-expression after meeting a beautiful trans woman. It has much more to offer than just that story, as almost every single scene in this film is about gender roles and how they need to be challenged. Every last person in this film suffers from identity fears and frustrations, but in a repressed society no one wants to admit it or talk about it at all, everyone pretends like it's nothing and tries to live on as expected. I was in awe seeing how director Saim Sadiq allowed so much expression in one film, and how every character felt like they had something to say even without actually saying it aloud. Haider and Mumtaz are perfectly established as gender-opposite characters, and it's so rejuvenating to watch them portray this effortlessly in scene after scene after scene.
Every single shot in this film is fantastic. The cinematography by DP Joe Saade is breathtakingly fresh, just like everything else in the film. It's complimented by a remarkably moving score by Abdullah Siddiqui, a Pakistani singer who adds so much emotion to the somber yet uplifting mood of the film. So many beautiful scenes, so many frames I just want to stare at. I didn't want it to end. I want to watch this over and over and share it with so many others. Discover how joyful this film is! Aside from the ending being a bit depressing, I adore everything about Joyland and I believe it instantly joins the ranks alongside Good Luck to You, Leo Grande as one of the most progressive films of 2022 about sexuality and gender dynamics. It's a triumphant story, with ups and downs of course, about how even though it may be a struggle filled with rocks-in-the-road, venturing out into society to be yourself & express yourself honestly in this world is worth it. Always.