Joy (2018)

Director: Sudabeh Mortezai
Writer: Sudabeh Mortezai
Cast: Anwulika Alphonsus, Mariam Sanusi, Angela Ekeleme
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 3.11.2018

Joy (Anwulika Alphonsus) is a sex worker in Vienna, although she is originally from Nigeria, like pretty much all of the people around her. When a new woman, Precious (Mariam Sanusi), is brought in, Madame (Angela Ekeleme) instructs Joy to show her the ropes. But Precious is not ready to accept that her life is supposed to be what Joy has already accepted for herself and her rebellious nature brings both of them a lot of trouble.

Joy is a well-researched film that packs a lot in its comparatively short runtime. But whether it caught me on the wrong day or it’s actually lacking something, I failed to get into the story on an emotional level, making the film feel flatter than it should.

Joy is a film that has a lot to say and to say it, Mortezai actually did a lot of research among sex workers, especially Nigerian sex workers in Vienna. The result is a film that feels very realistic, at least for someone who doesn’t have any personal experience with that particular subculture. They also found extremely good actresses for the roles, adding to the feeling of authenticity.

Unfortunately, apart from the particularity of the Nigerians in Austria, the story the film tells – from set-up to how it plays out, feels utterly familiar – like we have seen that same story play out a million times. And that feeling of familiarity does the film a complete disservice: it tells a story that should be emotional to the max, we should be horrified by the human trafficking, practical slavery, sexual exploitation and violence. But as harsh as this may sound, I struggled with actually being interested in Joy’s and Precious’ plight. The film also has distinct lengths in the second third, further increasing my problems (I actually fell asleep for a few minutes, despite not being tired when I came to the cinema).

That being said, there were many interesting and insightful moments here and there’s a depth to the explorations and downright analysis of the (power) structures that govern the women’s lives here. So, despite my reservations about it, I would still recommend that people see it. And I can imagine, that it just caught me on the wrong day. Maybe if I had seen it on another day, it would have spoken more to me.

Summarizing: didn’t work for me, but could have.

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