Pakistani trans drama wins Cannes ‘Queer Palm’ award

CANNES (AFP): A Pakistani movie featuring a daring portrait of a transgender dancer in the Muslim country on Friday won the Cannes “Queer Palm” prize for best LGBT, “queer” or feminist-themed movie, the jury head told AFP.

“Joyland” by director Saim Sadiq, a tale of sexual revolution, tells the story of the youngest son in a patriarchal family who is expected to produce a baby boy with his wife.

 He instead joins an erotic dance theatre and falls for the troupe’s director, a trans woman.

It is the first-ever Pakistani competitive entry at the Cannes festival and on Friday also won the Jury Prize in the “Un Certain Regard” competition, a segment focusing on young, innovative cinema talent.

“It’s a very powerful film, that represents everything that we stand for,” “Queer Palm” jury head, French director Catherine Corsini, told AFP.

– ‘Blown away’ –

Corsini herself took the award last year with “La Fracture”, which features a lesbian couple’s relationship against the backdrop of the “Yellow Vest” movement in France.

“‘Joyland’ will echo across the world,” Corsini said. “It has strong characters who are both complex and real. Nothing is distorted. We were blown away by this film.”

The “Queer Palm” has been won by big-name directors in the past and attracted top talent to its juries, but has no official place at the world’s top film festival.

Awards for films with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer content are already an integral part of other major movie gatherings, including Berlin which has handed out its “Teddy Award” since 1987, and made it part of its official programme.

Not so at Cannes, where the festival’s leadership will not even allow the “Queer Palm” — which has been running for a decade — to set up shop in its main building, the Palais du Festival.

“It makes me sad that the festival is still cold-shouldering the Queer Palm,” Corsini said.

Past winners of the prize, created in 2010 by critic Franck Finance-Madureira, include Todd Haynes for “Carol” and Xavier Dolan for “Laurence Anyways”.

“Joyland” beat off several other strong entries, including “Close” by Belgian director Lukas Dhont and “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” by Kirill Serebrennikov, both hot contenders for the Cannes Festival’s top Palme d’Or award which will be announced on Saturday.

“Joyland” left Cannes audiences slack-jawed and admiring and got a standing ovation from the opening night’s crowd.

– ‘Very schizophrenic’ –

Part of the surprise stemmed from the discovery by many at Cannes that Pakistan is one of the first nations to have given legal protection against discrimination to transgender people.

In 2009, Pakistan legally recognised a third sex, and in 2018 the first transgender passport was issued.

“Pakistan is very schizophrenic, almost bipolar,” director Saim Sadiq told AFP in an interview.

“You get, of course, prejudice and some violence against a particular community on the one hand, but you also get this very progressive law which basically allows everyone to identify their own gender, and also identifies a third gender,” he said.

For its short film award, the “Queer Palm” jury picked “Will You Look At Me” by Chinese director Shuli Huang.

The diary-type film, set in the film-maker’s hometown, shows a traditional society in which parents care more about their reputation than about their gay children’s happiness.

Palme d’Or from ‘wildly divisive’ entries

The 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival draws to a close on Saturday with one of the tightest races in recent memory and critics fiercely divided over the 21 films competing for the Palme d’Or.

The 12 days of the world’s foremost film fest has been a blast of technicolour grandeur, kickstarted by Tom Cruise with his first trip to Cannes in 30 years to launch “Top Gun: Maverick”, accompanied by a French Air Force display team.

It was a great year for music-lovers — Baz Luhrmann shaking things up with his much-anticipated rock’n’roll biopic, “Elvis” and critics blown away by an ultra-immersive documentary about David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream”.

In the main competition, the most searing images were no doubt in “Triangle of Sadness” with its extended sequence of projectile vomiting and violent diarrhoea on a cruise ship, that left audiences either howling with laughter or turning green.

Elsewhere, the entries tackled everything from a serial killer “cleansing” an Iranian holy city of prostitutes (“Holy Spider”) to the difficulties faced by migrants in Romania (“RMN”) and Belgium (“Tori and Lokita”) to a film told entirely from the point of view of a donkey (“EO”).

There was a wealth of Korean talent on the red carpet, with “Squid Game” star Lee Jung-Jae showing his directorial debut, “Hunt”, while Song Kang-ho (“Parasite”) and K-pop superstar Lee Ji-eun starred in touching adoption tale “Broker”.

– ‘Wildly divisive’ –

There was also bitter debate over the nomination of a Russian director, Kirill Serebrennikov, for his film “Tchaikovsky’s Wife”.

Even though he explicitly condemned the war, some Ukrainians at the festival argued there was no such thing as “a good Russian” in the current context, while others — such as documentary-maker Sergei Loznitsa — said such attitudes were “inhumane”.

Critics seemed unable to coalesce around any of the films in competition.

The possible exceptions were “Armageddon Time”, a story about the friendship between a young Jewish American boy and his Black schoolmate in 1980s Queens, starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway

Also gaining mostly strong reviews was “Decision to Leave” — another Korean entry. The Hitchcockian tale about a detective falling for a murder suspect comes from Park Chan-wook, known for his wild thriller “Oldboy”.

There was also a huge amount of buzz around one of the last films to show at the festival, “Close”, the tender story of two young boys learning to grapple with their budding sexuality. 

“Kind of loving that there’s barely a film in Cannes (competition) this year which isn’t wildly divisive,” tweeted Britain’s Telegraph critic Tim Robey, listing eight entries that were “despised AND adored”.

It falls to a different jury of film professionals each year to decide the Palme d’Or and other prizes, which will be announced on Saturday night.

This year, the jury is led by French actor Vincent Lindon, who starred in last year’s popular and gory winner, “Titane”, only the second time the top prize went to a woman — French director Julia Ducournau.

Among the eight other jury members are two-time Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, Indian superstar Deepika Padukone and British-American actress-director Rebecca Hall.

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