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‘The Queen of My Dreams’ Is an Exceptional Debut From Fawzia Mirza


Courtesy of TIFF

One of many Canadian films playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, The Queen of My Dreams pushes the limits of the medium, telling a story that crosses time, space, and even genre. The movie begins in Canada in 1999: Azra (Amrit Kaur) is a queer grad student completing her MFA, whose fraught relationship with her mother Mariam (Nimra Bucha) is immediately evident. Azra’s mother and father Hassan (Hamza Haq) embark upon a trip home to Pakistan, but things take a tragic turn when, shortly after they arrive, Hassan experiences a fatal heart attack.


Azra and her brother Zahid (Ali A. Kazmi) catch the next flight to meet their mother in Pakistan. Though both mother and daughter want to be there for each other, high emotions only worsen the tension between them. However, this is where the film takes an interesting turn: it flashes back to 1969 Pakistan, where a young Mariam (also played by Kaur) is a completely different woman from whom we first meet. As we jump from the past to the present to the past again, we discover that Azra and Mariam are more alike than they realize.


It’s not uncommon for diaspora cinema, particularly in mother-daughter stories, to employ the trope used here: a Western-raised child dives into their parent’s past in the ancestral land and walks away with a more compassionate perspective of what they’ve lived through. But writer-director Fawzia Mirza crafts a fresher take. Her razor-sharp focus on the nuances that make up Azra and Mariam’s relationship, the external factors that have affected and inspired it, and the subtle exploration of two different cultures on the cusp of social change allow for a sensitive yet uplifting portrait of womanhood, family, and, more importantly, the ever-shifting definitions of each.


Helping bring the film’s many worlds to life are editor Simone Smith, cinematographer Matt Irwin, and production designer Michael Pierson. Colourful and dynamic, Pierson’s work makes the film equal parts grounded and fantastical; no matter where we are, we feel at home amidst the fabrics and VHS tapes. Meanwhile, Irwin captures each scene in Pakistan like a postcard from overseas, and when the story moves back to Canada and switches to a more dulled palette, we feel the loss of a life once lived. And Smith never misses a beat, finding the harmony between the frenetic and the still.


Where The Queen of My Dreams soars is when it takes us back to Mariam’s past in 1969 Pakistan. Vibrant and exciting, we’re instantly drawn into who Mariam was. Here, Kaur turns in a stunning performance; she is, of course, great as Azra, but playing the younger version of her mother, an ambitious, care-free woman caught between tradition and the promise of something new, gives her a lot to chew and, as the kids say, she leaves no crumbs.


Indeed, the film hinges on this flashback narrative, so when we catch up with Mariam and her family in 1989 Nova Scotia (here, Bucha takes over with a powerful performance) and we see what happened that changed her so fundamentally, it’s even more heartbreaking, and evokes empathy over the fact that even the most strong-willed of us are ultimately at the mercy of the unpredictable ebb-and-flow of life.


Even still, The Queen of My Dreams dares us to dare, inspires us to connect, and, above all, reminds us to call our moms more often.



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