“Sometimes I feel like I have nothing that’s my own. Everything feels borrowed or stolen from someone else.”


Pakistani writer/director Saim Sadiq’s Joyland is on its surface about a young married man who becomes involved with a trans woman. In fact the scope of Joyland is far wider: this is a film about freedom and the various ways that its characters are confined, whether physically or emotionally, by the patriarchal structures of their society. Shame forces Haider to conceal his job as a dancer and his sexuality, his wife Mumtaz finds herself forced to give up a career and stuck at home, and even his overbearing father rejects potential companionship out of a sense of duty. Biba, a trans dancer, seems to have broken free (despite mistreatment by others) but even she demonstrates internalised homophobia. The subject matter initially led to Joyland being banned from release in its home country before its artistic merits were properly appreciated, ultimately being embraced as Pakistan’s official entry to the Academy Awards. Although its themes are bold, Haider is too passive to provide an engaging protagonist, and often seems more like a vessel through whom others’ lives are impacted. Lebanese cinematographer Joe Saade captures some beautiful night-time scenes, evoking intimacy through lighting and shadow — a warm yellow glow at Haider’s home, and the exotic greens of Biba’s bedroom. As humour gives way to tragedy, the most nuanced performances are Alina Khan as Biba, by turns powerful and suppressed, and Rasti Farooq as Mumtaz, whose loyalty shifts to dreams of escape. The titular “Joyland” is a funfair, an artificial means of temporary escape that parallels Haider’s daliance with Biba, both providing a brief respite from the familial duties of the world outside.