Review by Sean Boelman
Mohamed Kordofani’s feature debut Goodbye Julia debuted at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, before being selected as Sudan’s submission for the Best International Feature Oscar. While the film shows good intentions and tons of potential, it ends up being frustrating more often than provocative.
The film follows a woman who seeks redemption for her role in the death of a man by hiring his widow as her maid, keeping her motivations a secret. There is a great movie within the pieces of Goodbye Julia — some interesting beats, a challenging background, and intriguing themes — but they are brought together by a cliched story.
After an absolutely explosive opening, the film grinds to a halt, becoming a much slower burn for its remaining hour and forty five minutes. Arguably, the movie’s introduction is *too* effective and upsetting in that it causes the rest of the film to feel somewhat underwhelming in comparison. By the third act, it settles into a more melodramatic rhythm that feels much more conventional apart from asking a few interesting questions.
One thing that stands out about Goodbye Julia is that, despite its extremely specific setting of Sudan on the brink of division in the late 2000s, its themes still feel extraordinarily timely. A country headed towards war due to a division between ethnic groups is unfortunately something that the world still faces in many regions today.
Unfortunately, these themes are wasted on characters that feel overly archetypal. The privileged woman feels intense guilt over the wrong she may have been responsible for by her underprivileged foil. One would hope that we were past this trope of the less fortunate being used as “character development” for the wealthy, but Goodbye Julia falls back onto this dated device.
That being said, the performers make the most out of the roles they are given. Eiman Yousif does an excellent job of externalizing the more interior aspects of her character, overcoming some of the more histrionic parts of the script. Siran Riak manages to get a few really powerful moments — one in the last few minutes standing out, despite its predictability. Nazar Gomaa has a couple good scenes too, as the husband of Yousif’s character.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is consistently strong in its subtlety. Pierre de Villiers’s cinematography is not flashy, but it thrives in its stillness. The use of prolonged shots — sometimes with a slow zoom to give the frame a bit of disquieting motion — is perfect to immerse the viewer in the scenes’ emotion without ever overwhelming them.
Goodbye Julia starts extremely strong, but loses much of its steam after its first twenty minutes. Still, thanks to strong performances and solid execution, Mohamed Kordofani’s film is able to overcome the weaknesses and conventions of its script to be mostly worthwhile.
Goodbye Julia makes its US premiere at the 2023 Chicago International Film Festival, which runs October 11-22.