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(For its 31st edition, the SXSW Film & TV Festival hosted nine days of screenings from March 8-16, 2024. Check out Chris Reed’s The Queen of My Dreams movie review. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Director Fawzia Mirza marks her feature debut in a burst of colorful panache. The Queen of My Dreams tells its rousing, poignant, and very funny narrative across three different time periods, a celebration of life, love, queer identity, and Bollywood musicals. Offering strong performances in every era, as well as vibrant production design and a jaunty score, the movie skillfully combines tones, jumping from tragedy to comedy without regret. I’d like some more, please.

Azra has a problem. It’s 1999 in Toronto, Canada, and though she shares her apartment happily with her girlfriend, she keeps this side of herself private, not wanting to offend her Pakistani parents’ sensibilities. But soon a death in the family will force her to examine her cultural roots and seek a reconciliation (of sorts) with her mother, Mariam. All along, both women occasionally imagine themselves into films starring classic Indian actress Sharmila Tagore. Perhaps they have more in common than they might think.

Amrit Kaur (HBO Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls series) stars as both the twentysomething Azra and the twentysomething version of Mariam, back in 1969. Ayana Manji (Mustache) plays Azra in 1989. Nimra Bucha (Polite Society) is Mariam in 1989 and 1999. Actor Hamza Haq (Viking) plays Azra’s father, Hassan, young, old, and in between. They and the rest of the cast all shine, no matter the decade.

As in many intergenerational stories, the conflict between parents and children stems from one side failing to grasp that the other, like themselves once before, will need to break from established traditions and forge their own path. By intercutting the past and the present, Mirza shows the similarities—as well as differences—between Mariam and Azra in striking visual ways. We absorb the message without a constant verbal reminder of what it is.

The aesthetics of The Queen of My Dreams constantly delight, even in the drab years when the family lives in Nova Scotia after emigration. The swinging city of Karachi in the late 1960s, during Hassan and Mariam’s courtship, pops on screen, a world now lost to the passage of time and the country’s increasingly religious fervor. Even with the stylization of the mise-en-scène, each sequence feels properly lived in, fully realized down to the smallest detail.

And then there are those wonderful musical homages to the Bollywood tradition, in which Tagore and her male co-star are suddenly replaced by Azra (at all ages) and Hassan. Love transcends time and place, though it remains firmly grounded in our memory of both. Who we are is who we were and who we will be, blending together in an evocative mix. Best of all in this film, when the queens dream, they generously bring us along for the ride.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

2024 SXSW Film Festival; The Queen of My Dreams; Fawzia Mirza

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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