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In the first ever Pakistani film to premiere at Cannes – where it won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and the Queer Palm – a young man is torn between social conformity and pleasure.

Easygoing Haider is the younger son of a suffocatingly conservative patriarch who rules his Lahore family from his wheelchair. Haider’s elder brother Saleem has already disappointed the family because his wife has given birth to daughters rather than the longed-for sons; now, Haider and his wife are expected to step up. But Haider is infatuated with someone else. Having landed a gig as a backing dancer at an erotic revue, he finds himself drawn to its charismatic star Biba, a trans woman.

Joyland is the feature debut of Pakistani director Saim Sadiq, whose short film Darling (MIFF 2020) also starred trans actor Alina Khan and won Best Short Film at Venice in 2019. Here, he explores his homeland’s moral complications: respectability prescribes strict gender roles and stifles sexual expression, yet the country has a rich culture of erotic theatre and some of the world’s most trans-friendly laws. This weighty subject matter is buoyed by luminous cinematography and moments of humanising lightness, including the magnetic chemistry between leads Khan and Ali Junejo. Joyland is at once sobering and uplifting, with a gentle, observational gaze deeply compassionate to every character.

“Sadiq’s debut impresses with its sensitive storytelling and vibrant visuals … Tartly funny and plungingly sad in equal measure, this is nuanced, humane queer filmmaking.” – Variety