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MDX Redbeat

A Life Half-lived

Opening to the fleeting quick steps on the low desert dunes at noon, the sun rays shine through the sparse clouds as a distant trail of villagers follow the steps of a mother with her newborn by her bosom.

The religious ceremony begins as the dervishes, robed in bold blues and vibrant greens, dance to the pulsing beat of the Tabla. The mother’s hopeful eyes meet with the sheikh’s eyes. With the baby in his arms, his sorrowful eyes glare back as he repeats, “God’s will is inevitable.”

The film, You Will Die at Twenty, is a veracious portrayal of a village newborn, Muzamil, who grows up conflicted, knowing his fate is sealed by a prophecy – a prophecy that proclaims he will die at the age of twenty. 

“I think what I was trying to say was, in one word — freedom, freedom from all that can take you and put you in a box,” says Amjad Abu Alala, the Director of the international, award-winning film You Will Die at Twenty.

The movie’s narrative deliberates on themes of blind faith, disillusionment, free will, and love. It’s a critical take on the irrational belief of a rural village’s mentality, from the humble characters to the realistic design of the setting. Progressing with a light-hearted air throughout, the movie can reach across many different ideas and weird positions that youth face while growing up. 

Image: Amina Kaabi (Mille)

Abu Alala, the Sudanese director, was born and raised in the UAE. After a special screening at Cinema Akil, he sat for a Q&A segment and further elaborated on his vision of the film. He touched the fragile state of a young person that’s stuck in a stubborn mentality forced by culture or society, choosing to live as opposed to the mediocre mime act that repeats. The director was quick to elaborate on the movie’s theme, deeply rooted in identity. 

“This box is your destiny, or this box is what you were born to be. You can say that box is political and religious, and in the Arab world and Africa, it’s also about the culture, which is accurate, but also limiting. We are a world of limitation,” stated Amjad at a Cinema Akil screening, when asked about the context of the conflict. 

Being the first Sudanese movie in 30 years, it perhaps tries to say a lot also stands as a testament to the artistic ability that’s slowly being brought to light. The salient conflicts and doubts that are projected through Muzamil make for an incredibly relatable character, his decisions manipulated continuously by public thought and elders from the sidelines, leaving him confused while grasping for an identity that isn’t there at all.  

“I envisioned that I would have to dilute some of my own traits from the character himself, but he is the outsider.” Abu Alala mentioned when noting his inspiration for Sulaiman, a drunkard, retired filmmaker that Muzamil takes on as a father figure, played by Mahmoud Elsaraj.

Image: Amina Kaabi (Mille)

The film won the Venecia 76 Lion of the Future/Luigi de Laurentis Award for Best Debut Feature. The accolade was accompanied with other awards, including first place at the third edition of Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival in September. Yet, when expressing the film’s most significant achievement, Abu Alala said having a chance to revive Sudan’s artistic identity.

“It is no doubt that oppression and injustice can bring creativity and self-expression to a boil, especially in marginalized societies.” You Will Die at Twenty emotes a dire call for self-reflection and, in a sense, freedom; it may surprise viewers that from a plain, mellow setting can produce such an intimate catharsis through the emancipation of a young soul. 

A deep dive into the young mind that’s pressured by society and its brazen ideologies left to follow with no comprehension of the present. That young mind deserves a chance to think, to feel, to breathe, and to live. This film isn’t just an expression against collective ignorance; it inspires and brings to life the power of choice — the conscious choice we have to make every single day, our one choice; or else we risk having a life half-lived. 

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