Home Movie Reviews ‘Joika’ – Review
‘Joika’ – Review

‘Joika’ – Review


New Zealander filmmaker James Napier-Roberston has proven that he’s an artist willing to push the envelope and extend himself in dramatic ways. His new film, Joika, is a true story of Ballet in the pursuit of excellence that plays out like a taut psychological thriller – and you won’t be able to look away.

A fifteen-year old aspiring American ballerina leaves her Texan family home and is thrust into the world of Russian Ballet as one of the very few Americans to ever be accepted into the Moscow Bolshoi Academy. Under legendary teacher Tatiyana Volkova (Diane Kruger), Joy Womack (Talia Ryder) trains with the goal of becoming a Prima Ballerina at the Bolshoi Company. But, behind the beauty of dance is a world of pain and brutal competitiveness, and Joy is forced to push her body, her mind and her choices further than she ever thought possible. Finding unlikely support from Volkova, she risks her health, relationships and potentially her life in her journey to determine what it means to be great.

James Napier-Robertson has continually pushed himself to extend his artistic voice as a filmmaker, and the results are always powerful, with a list of credits that includes moving dramas The Dark Horse and Whina. Now Napier-Robertson steps into a new realm as he explores the savage pursuit of excellence in the world of Ballet and how this high artform extracts everything from its practitioners in Joika. A biography of acclaimed American ballerina Joy Womack, who achieves her dream of being accepted into the prestigious Moscow Bolshoi Academy but who then enters a cutthroat, deceptive and double-crossing world of artistic sabotage for those clamouring for the role of Prima Ballerina. Forget what you think Joika is; this is a taut and intense psychological thriller of extreme desire and sacrifice in the pursuit of perfection, and it’s a claustrophobic and affecting watch. The intensity of Joika is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the film.

While the young Joy (Talia Ryder) starts out as a doe-eyed and impressionable ingenue who exists only to dance, she quickly enters the fractious and, at times, psychologically dangerous world of the Bolshoi, and Joika suddenly turns into an almost Full Metal Jacket exercise of extreme training and psychological torment designed to separate the wheat from the chaff. And audiences will be floored. Joika is an experience where you never know what is going to happen next. Joy’s pursuit of excellence sees her under an extreme level of suffering, both physical, emotional and spiritual, and the pursuit of her dream soon cuts her deep. The cinematography and muted colour palette of cinematographer Tomasz Naumiuk add to the tension of this picture, and it’s a cinematic experience that fully envelopes you as a viewer.

Talia Ryder makes a huge impression on audiences with her raw and completely unflinching performance as Joy Womack, and she is an incredible talent to watch. Her performance in Joika is one that completely goes from A to Z, and she fully embraces the toil and suffering that Joy Womack had to undergo to become the dancer she always dreamed of. Bringing key support to the picture is Diane Kruger as Tatiyana Volkova, and this is a role unlike any she’s taken on before. As a former Prima Ballerina and a woman. who has devoted her life to the Bolshoi, Kruger’s Volkova is a tough-as-nails drill instructor of a dance teacher who puts Joy through immense pain to unleash her true potential. But she’s not a psychotic character and underneath is great care for Joy, which she slowly reveals, which elevates both of them to greatness.

While Joika is an immensely harsh watch at times, it all leads to a fulfilling ending and one that analyses the extent to which some individuals are willing to strive for greatness. James Napier-Roberston wraps you up in the emotions of everything, and it’s a thrilling watch that brings out the psychological tension in its narrative. The fact that it is all true makes it that much more intense. Through its camera work, choreography, and two superb performances from its leading ladies, including the presence of young Talia Ryder, who is an acting force and one that you should keep an eye out on, Joika will have you on edge right to the very end.