Goodbye Julia, 2023.
Written and Directed by Mohamed Kordofani.
Starring Eiman Yousif, Siran Riak, Nazar Gomaa, Ger Duany, Issraa Elkogali Häggström, Stephanos James Peter, Louis Daniel Ding, Mouawia Khalid, Motasim Abdelrazig Ahmed, Mohamed Abdelazim, Martha Nilwak Kando, Shamsaldeen Minto Abouti, and Paulino Victor Bol.
Just before the secession of South Sudan, a married former singer from the north seeks redemption for causing the death of a southern man by hiring his oblivious wife as her maid.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, Goodbye Julia wouldn’t exist.
Breaking new ground as the first Sudanese film to play the Cannes Film Festival and now only the second to be submitted as an official entry for Best International Film, Goodbye Julia is a gut-wrenching, emotionally draining tale of guilt spanning a few years across conflict-heavy Khartoum, before and leading up to the Southern secession. As the film goes on, first-time feature-length writer/director Mohamed Kordofani further layers the compelling narrative with contemplation on the nature of lies, how even well-meaning characters here might unknowingly still show some racism, the quest for personal satisfaction while handling responsibilities such as being a mother or significant other, and the line between slave and professional, respectable maid.
Mona (an astonishing performance from Eiman Yousif, selling her inescapable guilt and inner torment for all its worth) is a Muslim who once had a fondness for singing, something her controlling husband Akram (Nazar Goma) now prohibits her from doing. Instead, she secretly goes to restaurants that occasionally have bands she enjoys listening to. On the way home from this particular trip, she is distracted by the ongoing Southerner riots and inadvertently smashes her car into young Daniel (played by multiple actors), the titular Julia’s son. The situation causes Mona to panic, insisting to her racist husband that the father, Santino, giving chase is a threat. Akram shoots the father dead. Meanwhile, the neighbor and police cover everything up, so there is no investigation.
What ensues is Mona, mortified by her actions that led to even more heinous actions, tracks down the family and attempts to do everything in her power to make their lives easier, such as granting Julia (Siran Riak, also emotionally arresting) a maid job, which turns into a live-in position following the police burning down their home. This also means that they are occasionally around the xenophobic Akram, who also ends up forming a connection with young Daniel over his workshop. There is also a heated conversation where Akram assures Mona that she is not as progressive as she thinks she is, correctly assuming that she marked Julia and Daniel’s dishes and cups so as not to share them accidentally.
A time jump eventually comes, showing Mona and the Christian Julia becoming genuine friends while bonding over their culture, religion, and interests. Julia also comes across a potential love interest in the form of a former child soldier turned front-line liberator for the Southerners. There is a bit of a lull here as the proceedings start to cover familiar ground, but Mohamed Kordofani can successfully and poetically bring it back around into a thrilling finale that, once again must be stressed, features phenomenal acting from this ensemble. Additionally, there is some hypnotizing cinematography from Pierre de Villiers, framing one devastating scene as if it’s an actual Christian booth confession or using a steady, slow zoom over an intense dialogue exchange.
The depicted Khartoum conflict backdrop for the painful horror these characters in Goodbye Julia won’t soon be forgotten; this is blistering, enthralling filmmaking that offers no easy answers or solutions to these complex dynamics.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com