Review: Goodbye Julia
- CANNES 2023: Sudanese director Mohamed Korfani makes an entrance with a highly accomplished first feature film, exploring the conflicts in his country by way of an intimate, female story
"Not all truths need to be spoken", especially when serious conflicts are setting people apart on a national level. Yet it’s often by way of dialogue, as frightening and painful as this may be, and the manifestation of truth, that people’s lives are set free. It’s from this optic, in the heart of the Sudan during the fitful years of 2005-2010, faced with the prospect of partition, that Goodbye Julia [+see also:
interview: Mohamed Kordofani
film profile] unfurls. Discovered in the Un Certain Regard section of the 76th Cannes Film Festival, Mohamed Korfani’s brilliant first feature film manages to strike a perfect balance between an intelligent political and cultural backdrop and a thrilling and highly intimate plot, which thrusts us into the day-to-day life of a Muslim couple from Khartoum who have employed and are sharing their home with "Southerner" and her young son who aren’t where they are by chance, but as a result of unfortunate circumstances and guilty secrets.
"You’re going too far with them – We’re all equals, aren’t we?" Akram (Nazar Goma) and Mona (Eiman Yousif) live in a beautiful house. Outside, however, the atmosphere is incredibly tense and dangerous in the year 2005, when the accidental death of the leader of the South, John Garang, causes riots in the streets of the Sudanese capital. Gunfire breaks out, windows shatter and Akram takes up arms. It’s a rush of fever which drives Southerner Julia (Siran Riyak), her husband and their son Daniel out of their home, leaving them in a makeshift encampment where destiny comes to call: Mona’s car knocks into the little boy. In a panic, she flees the scene, chased by Julia’s husband on a motorbike. Alerted to what’s going on but unaware of the exact circumstances surrounding the event, other than "a southerner is chasing me", Akram shoots and kills…
The police are all over Mona, who is consumed by guilt over this murder. Julia, meanwhile, desperately hunts for her missing husband in vain. In order to redeem herself, Mona finds Julia and hires her as a home help, even putting a roof over her and Daniel’s heads without saying a word about her secret motivations. She also hides the truth from Akram. But can all of these secrets really be kept, as the two women grow closer and become friends over time, and as the vote for the country’s partition looms in 2010? And are there not other, women’s secrets hiding behind the former?
Examining the relationships unfurling within this "family" - forged and brought together under the same roof by circumstance - and armed with an excellent screenplay whose onion-like layers are slowly peeled away as the plot progresses like a game of chess, Mohamed Korfani offers up wonderful snapshots, overviews and explanations of all the nuances of the acute Sudanese situation of the time. Indeed, where there’s a total lack of mutual understanding and a surplus of institutional racism, can dialogue ever be resumed? And can we truly free ourselves from the ghosts of the past, even at the most intimate levels, where women especially have much in common? Goodbye Julia tries to provide answers to these existential questions by way of her splendidly acted female duo, who are magnified by the lens of talented director of photography Pierre du Villiers. It makes for a film of impeccable quality, marking the birth of an incredibly promising filmmaker and confirming the emergence of a 7th art in Sudan (the movie was produced by Amjad Abu Alala, a director revealed in 2019 via the just-as-brilliant work You Will Die at 20 [+see also:
interview: Amjad Abu Alala
Produced by Sudanese firm Station Films in league with their compatriots Klozium Studios, Egypt’s Red Star Films, Ambient Light and CULT, France’s Dolce Vita Films, Germany’s Die Gesellschaft, Sweden’s Riverflower and South Africa’s Cinewaves Films, Goodbye Julia is sold by Mad Solutions.
(Translated from French)
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