Caged birds who will not sing

UNEDUCATED but no fool: Julia (Siran Riak) in Goodbye Julia directed by Mahomed Kordorfani which opens the European Film Festival South Africa, on 12 October 2023.

VIOLENT POLITICAL CONFLICT is always the ideal setting for very complex emotional tales of love and trauma. Mohamed Kordorfani’s first foray into film direction offers a clear and convoluted path of friendship between two women. It’s called Goodbye Julia and is the opening film for this year’s European Film Festival, which is online and at cinemas in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, between 12 and 22 October, in eSwatini between 20 and 22 October and Lesotho between 26 and 28 October.

In 2011, after many years of vicious civil warfare, the Sudan was officially split into two entities – north and south. This is the work’s historical backdrop, and it features a tapestry-like interface between rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, man and woman. The ‘us and them’ narrative is thick and fast with unconscious pejoratives and micro-aggressions but not necessarily ill intent. And then an accident happens, and it’s followed directly by something more than an accident. A man’s life is lost.

With a title that doesn’t quite cohere with the English translation of this work, Goodbye Julia is a tale of blind anger and desperate “plasters” conjured up to fix broken lives, but also one of lies and treachery, to oneself as well as others. Mona (Eiman Yousif) is a childless Muslim wife. Her marriage is traditional if not happy. Julia (Siran Riak) is a happily married Christian woman with a small boy. They come face to face dramatically, and Mona believes she has the upper hand: Julia has no education. She’s poor. But she’s not a fool.

Politics intervenes in the interstices of this friendship which is based on broken dreams and complex turmoil that reaches as far as Mona’s ovaries, and there much that Julia needs to make peace with. The work is beautiful in its textures of life in Sudan but it is beset by the kind of clichés that drive tales of women who struggle to have children, along the lines of Mother, the Bulgarian film on this festival.

Having said that, it’s a worthy and sadly, prescient piece of work that is as much about differences as it is about similarities.

  • Goodbye Julia is directed by Mohamed Kordofani features a cast headed by Ger Duany, Nazar Goma, Issraa Elkogali Häggström, Siran Riak and Eiman Yousif. Written by Mohamed Kordofani, it is produced by Amjad Abu Alala and features creative input by Mazen Hamid (music), Pierre de Villiers (cinematography), Heba Othman (editing) and Mohamed Elmur (costumes). In Sudanese Arabic with English subtitles, it is part of the 10th European Film Festival South Africa, screening at The Zone in Rosebank Johannesburg, The Labia in Cape Town, Gateway in Durban and online from 12-22 October, with satellite programmes in eSwatini from 20-22 October and in Lesotho from 26 to 28 October.

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