‘You will die at 20:’ Cursed boy’s Sudanese struggles mix fantasy, superstition

The movie explores the dilemma of a family whose child may not live beyond 20. (Supplied)
Updated 08 October 2019

‘You will die at 20:’ Cursed boy’s Sudanese struggles mix fantasy, superstition

CHENNAI: Sudanese director Amjad Abu Alala’s debut film, “You Will Die at 20,” which premiered at Venice, winning the Lion of the Future Award, and El-Gouna, where it clinched the Golden Star for best narrative feature, has all the magical qualities of a fantasy, tipped in superstition.

Mounted with almost ethereal sensitivity with some lovely color tones of the Sudanese landscape, the movie explores the dilemma of a family whose child may not live beyond 20.

In a land where blind beliefs rule, often cynicism overwhelms logic and reason. And with mind-blowing landscapes along the Nile, Alala takes us into the bitter-sweet story of Muzamil (Moatasem Rashed, later Asjad Mohamed).




Sudanese Amjad Abu Alala directed “You Will Die at 20." (Supplied)

His mother, Sakina (Islam Mubarak), takes him for a blessing soon after he is born, and at the religious ceremony a dancer in a trance stops counting at 20. The sheikh, who gives his benediction, states the child will die on reaching 20. Sakina is shattered, and the boy’s father, who cannot contemplate seeing his son die so young, leaves the country to find work.

Muzamil is aware of his fate and faces the ridicule of other children with unbelievable stoicism. His mother tries to keep him out of harm’s way and stops him going to school. But he manages to attend Qur’an classes, and proves a master at memorizing it.

However, his job with the village shopkeeper sees him befriend a cynical man, who encourages him to question his fate. The man also introduces him to cinema, opening up a whole new world for Muzamil.




The movie's latest premier was at El-Gouna Film Festival. (Supplied) 

Unfortunately, Alala veers into unnecessary terrain where we see a religious man asking Muzamil to remove his T-shirt. The director just leaves this scene hanging. And he skews into another inexplicable zone by introducing Naiema (Bonna Khalid), a vivacious young woman who falls in love with Muzamil. Does she merely pity him? We are given no clue.

Yet, the splendid visual design makes up for the somewhat slipshod script. There is also something very personal about the film, drawing on Alala’s experiences in Sudan where he spent five years of his childhood.

“I think my relationship to Sudan, my memory and my childhood — it’s all there,” he once said. The rest of the movie is based on a short story by Sudanese writer Hammour Ziada.


‘It Must Be Heaven’: Elia Suleiman’s sardonic take on the world

Suleiman, who plays the lead role as himself, explores identity, nationality and belonging. (Supplied)
Updated 23 October 2019

‘It Must Be Heaven’: Elia Suleiman’s sardonic take on the world

MUMBAI: Elia Suleiman’s “It Must Be Heaven,” which was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival, is pure cinema. Like his earlier works, here too the Palestinian director uses wit, sarcasm and minimalism, this time to present a series of vignettes that are funny but also a powerful lambast of the world we live in. Suleiman, who plays the lead role as himself, explores identity, nationality and belonging.

He says people worldwide now live in fear amid global geopolitical tensions. Today, checkpoints are just about everywhere: In airports, shopping malls, cinemas, highways — the list is endless.

“It Must Be Heaven” was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival. (Supplied) 

Suleiman’s earlier features, such as “Chronicle of a Disappearance” and “Divine Intervention,” showed us everyday life in the occupied Palestinian territories. This time, it is Paris and New York. 

The first scene is hilarious, with a bishop trying to enter a church with his followers. The gatekeeper on the other side of the heavy wooden door is probably too intoxicated and refuses to let the priest in, leading to a comical situation. Suleiman’s life in Nazareth is filled with such incidents — snippets that have been strung together to tell us of tension in society. Neighbors turn out to be selfish, and only generous when they know they are being watched. 

The Palestinian director uses wit, sarcasm and minimalism, to present a series of vignettes that are funny but also a powerful lambast of the world we live in. (Supplied)

In Paris, the cafes along the grand boulevards, and the young women who pass by, are typical of France’s capital. But a cut to Bastille Day, with tanks rolling by in a show of strength, jolts us back to harsh reality. In New York, Suleiman’s cab driver is excited at driving a Palestinian. 

The film has an interesting way of storytelling. The scenes begin as observational shots, but the camera quickly changes positions to show Suleiman watching from the other side of the room or a street. The camera then returns to where it first stood, and this back-and-forth movement is delightfully engaging.

The framing is so perfect, and the colors so bright and beautiful, that each scene looks magical. And as the director looks on at all this with his usual deadpan expression, a sardonic twitch at the corner of his mouth, we know all this is but illusion. There is bitter truth ahead!