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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
This year's Queer Palme winner, and the first ever Pakistani film in the Cannes official selection, Saim 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 and as a tale of transgender desire in a Muslim country, its very premise makes it a boundary-breaker.
At its heart, however, this is a gently observed, honestly felt family story, not out to speak for any demographic as a whole, and benefiting considerably from the warm, slightly dishevelled charm of screen novice Ali Junejo in the lead. He plays Haider, the scrappy younger son of the Rana family, a handsome, imaginative daydreamer who hasn’t yet found his calling in life, he has taken a wife — smart, self-sufficient Mumtaz (a superb Rasti Farooq).
Haider and Mumtaz remain childless and while he hasn’t held a job in years, Haider contentedly plays homemaker (and playful childminder to his three nieces) while Mumtaz assumes the breadwinner role — not the only way in which their mutually affectionate but passionless marriage defies social convention. When he does eventually find employment through a friend, it’s not the traditionally respectable kind. Despite no great gifts in the terpsichorean department, he’s hired as a backing dancer for trans female performer Biba (Alina Khan) at a local nightclub. Haider lies about his job to his family, claiming he’s merely a stage manager. Also strictly secret, needless to say, is his increasingly close bond with Biba, who teaches him to loosen both his hips and his sensibilities.
Sadiq’s wry, intelligent script doesn’t treat their relationship as some kind of revelatory, cure-all lightning bolt, but rather as a litmus test for all that this caring but confused young man has yet to learn about himself and others. Sadiq’s visual wit is never more apparent than in the image of Haider ferrying a giant cardboard standee of Biba across town on his moped: a trans woman literally larger than life, defiantly taking up space against the night sky..