20 Mar 2024

Review: Goodbye Julia

From At The Movies, 7:00 pm on 20 March 2024

Goodbye Julia is that rare thing, a film from Sudan in North East Africa. It recently made the cut as part of a recent Cannes Film Festival.  

It’s set round 20 years ago, before the southern, African part of the country seceded from the mostly Arab, northern part.   And it’s told through the eyes of two women.

Mona – wealthy, Arab, a little spoiled – spends much of her time shopping, it seems. Her husband Akram – rather more decent than usual in this sort of film – is happy to let her out, though the streets are increasingly dangerous now. 

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Photo: Screenshot

Revolution is in the air.

Sudan is a tinderbox with rich Arabs and poor Africans deeply suspicious of each other. The smallest thing can set off trouble.  

When Mona accidentally hits a small southern child in her car, the kid’s father takes off after her on his motorbike.   Hearing the noise, Akram comes out with a gun.  The father is killed, and the police cover it up.

Akram feels justified – the man was invading his home – and the guilt-ridden Mona can’t bring herself to tell him what really happened.  

She secretly goes back to the man’s house, where she sees the child Danny now fully recovered, and his mother forced to fend for herself.  Her name is Julia.

To assuage her conscience, Mona hires Julia as her well-paid maid. She also arranges a good school for Danny, and even night-classes for Julia herself.   

Her husband Akram doesn’t understand why she’s getting so close to the hired help.

This is just the start of the journey taken by Goodbye Julia.  I was reminded of those Iranian films where the plot is a chain of events following each other, each time changing the story.

Something terrible leads to something promising, which in turn leads to more bad news.

The film is certainly driven by the rising hostility between the two Sudans, coloured by our knowledge that events may seem bad now but they’ll eventually turn even worse.

But the heart of the story is the growing, unlikely affection between the two women. Though as the years go by, Julia still feels she owes it to her son Danny to find out what happened to his father Santino.

Mona’s life of apparent privilege comes at a price too.  She had to give up a musical career because her jealous husband put his foot down.

When she secretly kept singing, Akram divorced her, only remarrying her when she promised to stop singing and stop lying to him. As Mona later jokes to Julia, she did stop singing.  

But in a life as constrained as hers, lying is almost an occupational hazard.

Neither of the two attractive leads are professionals - Mona is played by a singer called Eiman Yusif, Julia is played by model and former Miss South Sudan Siran Riak.  And as Julia’s life improves, so do her prospects.  She finds herself attracted to a glamorous freedom fighter called Majeer.

It’s a story that’s inexorably heading towards two things – a secret unveiled and a country split in two.  

There seems no way that the two women – who are best friends by the end – can survive either catastrophe.

No spoilers, other than to say that the ending of Goodbye Julia is entirely satisfying.

I particularly liked the fact that the filmwritten and directed by expat Sudanese, Mohamed Kordofani – doesn’t stoop to taking obvious sides. None of the characters are completely bad, nor are they completely good – not even 10-year-old Danny.

But the chilling punchline is after the film has reached a heart-wrenching conclusion. 

A year later, war has broken out and the final shot is of Danny in a jeep with Majeer, both armed to the teeth. 

Goodbye Julia, it says. There’s nothing you can do.

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