You Will Die at Twenty (2020)

October 8th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Amjad Abu Alala; Cast; Mustafa Shehata, Islam Mubarak, Mahound Maysara Elsaraj, Bonna Khalid, Talal Afifi, Amal Mustafa | Drama 103 min.

This first feature film from Sudanese director/co-writer Amjad Abu Alala is a melancholic rites of passage fable that has won awards across the board since Venice Film Festival 2019. Based on the short story “Sleeping at the foot of the mountain” by Hammour Ziada, it tells the story of Muzamil, who was destined at birth to live no more than the titular twenty years (according to a religious prophecy). With gorgeous images by DoP Sébastien Goepfert, the feature won the Luigi de Laurentis Award for Best First Film at the 76th Mostra 2019 in Venice.

In a village near the river Nile, Sakina (Mubarak) has given birth to a son, Muzamil. The Sheik and Village Eldest oversees the ceremony, but just when he wants to wish the baby a long and prosperous life, the dancer – reciting the incantatory verses – loses consciousness, his last word being ‘Twenty’.

From that time Muzamil will be known forever as the man who will die at twenty. His overprotective mother Sakina goes into mourning and wears black from the day of that  fateful ceremony. The children tease him, calling him “Son of Death”. His father Alnoor (Afifi) reacts differently to the potential loss of his son.) leaves the family and becomes a nomad on the African continent.

When Muzamil (Shehata) reaches his teens, his childhood sweetheart, Naima (Khalid), tries in vain to make him marry her. Muzamil has a brilliant memory, and can recite the whole Quran in two versions. But he also has an admirer in the shape of local Imam.  But Muzamil’s life changes when he meets Sulaiman (Elsaraj), a cinematographer who has travelled the world and has filmed his foreign adventures, as well the nightlife in Khartoum. He enthuses Muzamil with his zest for life and cinema and soon an internal conflict grows in Muzamil’s heart challenging his modern aspirations with his traditional values.

Alala choses a slow tempo to recount his tale making it clear where he stands in the fight between religious repression and human desire. With its naturalistic performances and sparse dialogue, this is pure visual storytelling and despite the rather maudlin subject matter You Will Die At Twenty is delightful to watch. AS


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