Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 27, 2023 8:52 pm 
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Meek adventurer: fabulous movie

Salim Said reveals a remarkable new artist in world cinema, with his debut feature Joyland, a film that has brought a lot of trouble in Pakistan for its sexual frankness but won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and the Queer Palm at Cannes (the first Pakistani film to be at Cannes) and many other awards. Mainly, it depicts Haider (Ali Jonejo) a meek (but irresistibly attractive) married but childless and unemployed youngest son who falls madly n love with Biba (Alina Khan), a powerful trans woman who heads a dance troupe he joins. It's a tangled, fascinating tale but first of all is the portrait of a society, and within that society an extended family. Haider lives with his wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), but the opening scene shows him chauffeuring his sister-in-law Nucchi (Sarwat Gilani) to the hospital on the back of a moped to deliver her fourth child. Her husband, Haider's brother Saleem (Sameer Sohail), is elsewhere at the moment.

Very quickly, for me, despite its jaw-droppingly casual overflow of events, Joyland became first of all a visual feast. Anthony Lane, whose admiring New Yorker review I read before seeing the picture, noted that he spotted a shot framed in a doorway that had "the pious composure" of a 17th-century Dutch painting by Pieter de Hooch (helped by the film's 4:3 aspect ratio). But that is only one of many. Several others have something of a Dutch interior look; or the colors and flowing fabric of the Italian renaissance. A shot framing the whole of Biba's bedroom with her and Haider sitting in it looks like an engraving printed in color. Actually nearly every shot is striking and beautiful in a different, quite original way with painterly, pictorial framing. Only strong intense closeups, especially of Haider, counteract this. There are scenes of him with Biba but also of him with Mumtaz that are very sexy. The pictorial delight isn't just eye-candy; it's an erotic glow, and older people enter into it too. (A famous scene will be the one of Haider conveying a giant cardboard effigy of Biba on his moped, at night, blocking his field of vision.)

There is framing in the crampedness of in which the action takes place, the big central courtyard where the two couples meet and Abba (Salmaan Peerzada), the pater familias, reigns, and the staging area of the dancers. The natural light is well used in these painterly settings. But at night Lahore, where this transpires, has sudden power outages, and an important performance of the dance troop takes place, anyway, magically, to the light of the audience's dozens of cellphones.

These visual wonders accompany a back-and-forth of Haider's double life, which curiously he seems - but only seems - to negotiate adeptly simply, through being such a limp fish. Certainly he is attractive in closeups and his limpness is counteracted by his good looks, or how well he photographs, his lustrous hair, defined cheekbones, big cow eyes, or the deep masculinity of the heavy five o'clock shadow he, like a lot of the younger men, wears now.

Mumtaz has had the job, as a high level makeup artist, but once Haider is working, claiming to Abba that he's a manager, since erotic dancer is embarrassing as well as improbable, she stops working, gets bored and desperate, and becomes pregnant with a boy. Haider ultimately fails with Biba because he doesn't know either what he wants, or what she needs, a pretty bad combination of criss-crosses.

But this is to reveal too much, though what a reviewer can tell is nothing like what a viewer will see in this fascinating amalgam of original storytelling and visual delight, which nobody could summarize. (Reviews fail unusually badly to capture the essential of Joyland,; Peter Bradshaw does so best in his succinct Guardian review.) I knew in the first five minutes from the unusual mise-en-scene, eye-delighting images and casually offbeat unfolding of events that this was going to be a great movie. That happens very rarely these days.

One of the year's best films.

Joyland, 126 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2022 in the Un Certain Regard section (Jury Prize); dozens and dozens of other festival showings. Staggered Us theatrical release starting in New York (Film Forum) April 7, 2023. Metacritic rating 82%.

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