“Goodbye Julia” is a Sudanese drama whose very existence is remarkable, marking a historic moment in African cinema. It is the first feature film from Sudan ever to be presented in any of the main sections of the Cannes Film Festival, a prestigious honor that reflects its artistic merit and the growing prominence of African cinema in the international arena.
Directed by Mohamed Kordofani, the film is set in Sudan during a turbulent time in its history. Between 2005 and 2010, the country was on the verge of splitting into two states, following decades of civil war and conflict between the Muslim-dominated North and the Christian-majority South. The film depicts the impact of this political and social crisis on the lives of two women from different backgrounds and faiths, whose paths cross in an unlikely and tragic way.
The film’s main protagonist is Mona, a wealthy Muslim woman from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. She is married to a powerful businessman who is involved in shady dealings. One day, she learns that her husband has killed a Christian man from the South, who was married to Julia, a poor widow who works as a seamstress. Consumed by guilt and remorse, Mona decides to hire Julia as a maid in her luxurious home, hoping to make amends for her husband’s crime.
However, this act of kindness soon turns into a source of trouble and tension. Mona’s husband disapproves of Julia’s presence and treats her with contempt and abuse. Mona’s friends and neighbors question her motives and loyalty. Julia herself struggles to adjust to her new environment and to cope with her grief and anger. Despite these obstacles, Mona and Julia develop a bond of friendship and solidarity, based on their shared experience of living under a patriarchal and oppressive system.
“Goodbye Julia’s” plot is complex and multi-layered, weaving together personal and societal dramas. It does not shy away from addressing the difficult and sensitive issues that plague Sudanese society, such as racism, classism, sexism, religion, tradition, and change. The film also exposes the corruption and violence of the ruling elite, who exploit and oppress the masses for their own gain. And it does not offer easy solutions or moral judgments but rather invites the audience to reflect on the causes and consequences of these problems.
The film’s structure follows a conventional model, with a clear exposition, climax, and resolution. However, stand its pace is slow and deliberate, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the characters’ emotions and motivations. Additionally, flashbacks are incorporated to create suspense and contrast between different periods and situations, and the overall style — especially the performances from leads Eiman Yousif as Mona and Siran Riak as Julia — is naturalistic, aiming to capture the authenticity and diversity of Sudanese culture and society.
Its cinematography is subtle yet effective, using close-ups to convey intimacy and expression, and wide shots to show the disparity and conflict between different regions and classes.
“Goodbye Julia’s” historical and sociopolitical context is essential for understanding its significance and relevance. Sudan has a long and troubled history of colonialism and civil war, which has resulted in deep divisions and inequalities among its people. The film portrays this reality with accuracy and sensitivity, providing a rare glimpse into a part of the world that is often neglected or misrepresented in global cinema.
The film does explore universal themes like guilt and atonement. Mona, feeling guilty for her indirect role in the death of Julia’s husband, attempts to make amends by hiring Julia as a maid. This theme is a driving force behind the narrative and the characters’ actions.
It also explores patriarchy and the oppression of women in Sudanese society. Both Mona and Julia are shown to be trapped by societal norms and expectations. This theme of friendship and empathy amidst adversity is a key aspect of the film. And despite the challenges and hardships faced by the characters, the film underscores the themes of resilience and hope. This is particularly evident in the characters’ determination to navigate their difficult circumstances and strive for a better future.
“Goodbye Julia’s” director, Mohamed Kordofani, brings his personal vision and experience to it. A former aeronautical engineer who quit his job to pursue his passion for cinema, Kordofani is one of a few contemporary figures of Sudanese cinema making their mark on the international stage. His previous work includes short films and documentaries that explore local social and political issues. And his background and knowledge inform his filmmaking style and choices, giving the film an originality and depth that sets it apart from others.
The target audience for “Goodbye Julia” is diverse and broad. It is a film that will appeal to anyone who is interested in world cinema in general, or African cinema in particular. It will also attract viewers who enjoy complex and character-driven stories that deal with universal themes such as guilt, friendship, justice, and survival. Moreover, the film will educate and enlighten viewers who want to learn more about Sudanese history, culture, politics, and society.
“Goodbye Julia” is a film that accomplishes what it set out to do, offering a nuanced and insightful exploration of contemporary Sudanese society, weaving in a complex history. While it may require some background knowledge and cultural awareness to fully appreciate its context and message, the film is well worth the effort for its unique perspective in exploring universal themes like friendship and empathy, resilience and hope, and guilt and atonement. Its engaging narrative, realistic portrayal of its setting, and critical examination of its issues make it worthwhile.
“Goodbye Julia” is screening in the Un Certain Regard strand of the Cannes Film Festival.
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