On Joyland

Last night, I went to see Joyland. I was excited, and curious to see if it lived up to the hype, or if it was truly “promoting” and “glorifying” LGBT as has been alleged by certain quarters.

For two and a half hours, I was completely mesmerized by this movie. Without giving away its plot, I can assure you that those who claim it promotes LGBT are lying for their own gains. And they are probably jealous of this movie’s well-deserved success.

This film is brilliant. It is sensitive, highly aesthetic, superbly crafted, beautifully acted. Each person in the ensemble cast delivers a performance unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Biba, the transgender character, is only one of a very strong number of characters, and she serves as a catalyst for the plot.

The most striking thing about Joyland is that it is so honest and open about our society and culture. It places the blame squarely on patriarchy. Everyone suffers because of patriarchy. There is no joy in their lives (hence the irony of the title).

The movie addresses sensitive topics, and is risque in places, but nothing we’re not used to. Any depiction of physical intimacy has been censored; a cut in the storyline of Biba and Haider that the censors have undertaken renders their later separation very confusing, but there’s nothing we can do about that one now. The rest of it was blurred screens and curse words bleeped out.

There was humor, pathos, compassion, and sensitivity in this movie. It was a humanizing experience. It was sophisticated and intelligent. In short, it was true art. A special shout-out to the music and visuals, which elevated the story and acting to brilliance. No blaring dramatic music at the most painful moments. No garish colors, no cheap laughs or thrills. No moralizing, no judgments, no cartoon villains or heroes. Just people living lives of “quiet desperation” but interspersing that with quiet bravery and quiet resistance.

Aesthetically I’d compare Joyland to the films of Iranian directors like Asghar Farhadi, who portray “forlorn people trapped between the demands of tradition and modernity” (New Frame). Joyland employs a poetic humanism to depict people whose lives go very wrong because they are suppressed beyond what human beings can endure.

I also like how it places lowbrow entertainment (erotic cinema, mujras) as central to the expression of repressed desires in Pakistani society — all those needs and feelings must find their outlet. And the last, final scene, which is devastating (and reminiscent of Anton Corbijn in its framing thanks to Joe Saadiq’s cinematography), shows the eventual destination of those desires and the people who carry them, when repressed beyond hope or redemption.

We should be very very proud of this film. It came from Pakistan. It’s about Pakistan. It’s moving. This is the kind of cinema I want to see from this country. Not everyone will appreciate Joyland or want to go see it, but it is in short a wonderful film. It has a real shot of winning the Oscar. I hope that it does.



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