“Rarely a happy moment” – Joy (London Film Festival Review)

Rating:

The need and want for a better life is something everyone craves. Some will do almost anything for what they believe is a better. But after getting to where you want to be, sometimes it’s hard to admit, the grass is always greener. Director Sudabeh Mortezai focuses on the sex trafficking in Europe, a never-ending cycle of the grim life these women face.

Joy is a prostitute working in Vienna. She has to work to pay of the debt she owes the ‘Madame’ who runs her house of Nigerian women who have come to Europe for a better life and to make money to send home. She is saves money to send home and to keep her child safe away from the house. When she is put in charge of teaching the newly arrived Precious who causes some problems and doesn’t want to work the streets, Joy can’t get involved and has to keep focused on her own goals.

For a film called Joy there isn’t any in the story. The only time Joy ever smiles in the entire film is when she sees her daughter. Joy knows how to act, how to dress, how to behave. The impression is given that she has been doing her job for a long time. She is weary, near emotionless, her expression of an almost broken woman. Making good money, she obediently pays her debt back week by week, sends money home to her family and pays the nanny who looks after her daughter. She is driven my money, as are all the other women who pay the ‘Madame’. She is paid for her services, given money by her ‘boyfriend’, has money asked of her from her family back home, always asking for more. She is uncaring towards the new arrival, Precious, who doesn’t quite understand or accepts how things work. But Joy isn’t completely unfeeling, as she is in contact with the police about the illegal people trafficking and illegal sex workers controlled by the ‘Madame’. She wants to prevent any more girls going through what she had to.

With rarely a happy moment, the only one being where all the women (except Joy) in the house dance to music on TV, the story is difficult to get through. Joy’s struggle to try and make her life work outside the house of other women brings her right back to what she was doing on the streets but in a nicer set up. Nothing seems to change for Joy, all she seems to do is suffer. As she struggles with doing what she believes is for her family and against her human rights, Joy is not shown any sign that that she will be free again.

The subject of the film is bleak and with it the frightening realistic performances from the cast there is a sense there is no hope in sight and that these women will continue to suffer is hard to watch, particularly a scene near the beginning where the camera focuses on reactions to an act taking place off camera. By the end of the film you’re left with an uncomfortable empty feeling that there is no hope and the cycle continues, which is bleak indeed but just shows devastating the subject of the film is.

Dir: Sudabeh Mortezai

Prd: Oliver Neumann

Scr: Sudabeh Mortezai

Cast: Anwulika Alphonsus, Angela Ekeleme, Mariam Sanusi

DoP: Klemens Hufnagl

Country: Austria

Year: 2018

Running time: 99 minutes