Cannes Film Festival 2023: we spent a day with the team of “Goodbye Julia”, the first Sudanese film presented on the Croisette

“Do you know how to steam?” ( Sdo you have how we iron?). Barely crossed the door of the suite 117 of the Martinez hotel, here I am carried away in the sequined whirlwind of the Croisette behind the scenes. A young man is desperately looking for an ironing expert: it’s Youssef Elbarodi, a stylist by trade and guardian of the smooth running of the operations until the climb up the stairs. It sets the tone from the first second: we do with the means at hand and all goodwill is called upon.

Around her two protégés, the actresses Eiman Yousif and Siran Riak, make-up artists, hairdressers and press officers are busy. It’s effervescence, just one corner of the room remains to quickly install the steam generator requested by Youssef.

The blood that flows to think of Sudan

The sumptuous trouser dress that is to be ironed was specially made for Eiman Yousif. Between a dash of khol and a cloud of blush, the Sudanese actress and singer takes the time to explain her white outfit, the color of peace. It is adorned with a red brooch, “a wounded heart she told me, that of Sudan, my country.” Carmine embroidery threads, sewn at the ends, symbolize flowing blood. Sudan has been at war again since April 15, more than 200,000 people have left the country, 700,000 others have been displaced. More than a muse of a luxury brand, the Sudanese actress prefers to put her notoriety at the service of a country in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.

Eiman Yousif a few hours from the rise of the steps - Cannes 2023 (Ariane Combes - France Télévision)

Siran Riak a few hours from the rise of the steps - Cannes May 2023 (Ariane Combes-France Television)

Concentrated, Mohamed Kordofani is too. He waits patiently for his two actresses at the brasserie on the ground floor of the hotel. Black suit and dark glasses, slicked back curls and elegant gait. Only a purple silk pocket square discreetly resists the sobriety of her outfit. “I’m a little nervous”, he admits with a smile. One can say without fear of dramatizing that he is risking his life. This aeronautical engineer dropped everything three years ago to devote himself to making his first film and getting involved in cinema.

A commitment made at the fall of the Islamist regime of Omar El-Bashir, which had banned cinema for 30 years. Alongside him, producer Amjad Abu Alala is also an activist artist. The director of You will die at 20, awarded in 2020 with a Lion d’Or for Best First Film at Venice, is taking advantage of its recent popularity to promote and finance Sudanese cinema. “We’ve been waiting for 30 years, he testifies enthusiastically. We have so many stories to tell about this often overlooked part of the world.”

The Evils of Sudan

Among these stories to tell, that of Goodbye Julia will certainly date. The film is set between 2005 and 2010, a time marked by the violent confrontation between the Muslim North and the Christian South. It is about friendship and guilt against a background of violence and racism. The country is emerging from a civil war of more than 20 years in which 2 million people died. South Sudan is in the process of obtaining its independence. It is in this dramatic context that Mona, Muslim, and Julia, Christian, meet.

Goodbye Julia is not a political story, but the fate of these two women is crossed by the ills of Sudan. And on this preview day, he is overtaken by current events. A new war broke out on April 15, a conflict between two generals that once again threatens civil society.

Siran Ryiak, Mohamed Kordofani, Eiman Yousif and Ger Duany - Cannes 2023 (Ariane Combes - France Television)

The clock is ticking. The excitement is at its height when Eiman Yousif and Siran Riyak, radiant, appear in the hotel lobby, heading for the red carpet of the Debussy room, reserved for the Un certain regard selection. The first was until now a theater actress and singer, the second, originally from South Sudan, a model. They may present their first film at Cannes, but one would swear that they are regulars on the Croisette as they master the exercise.

Stuck under the bombs

The smiling faces in the promotional photos do not speak of the team’s sadness and mixed feelings. Because one of the main actors of the film is missing. Nazar Goma could not join the Cannes adventure for lack of a visa to leave Sudan. The column published in The world and the mobilization of French filmmakers in favor of Sudanese artists did nothing. He remained cloistered at his home in Khartoum, under the bombs. It is therefore to him that Mohamed Kordofani pays tribute before the screening, and not only. “I also want to salute the resilience of these people who for five years have been demonstrating in the streets of Khartoum for peace and justice, he said solemnly to the hundreds of spectators present at the screening. Neither dictatorship nor tyrants will overcome this resilience.”

Eiman Yousef’s tears at the end of the screening and Mohamed Kordofani’s serious face speak volumes about everyone’s emotion. The heartbreaking film undoubtedly won over Cannes audiences, but footage of Khartoum shot at the end of 2022 abruptly reminded the director of what his city looked like before it was once again in the grip of fighting. “I check social media every day. he confides, and I see my city on fire. She’s burning, she’s collapsing.”

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