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You Will Die At Twenty

Director: Amjad Abu Alala

Stars: Mustafa Shehata, Islam Mubarak, Mahmoud Elseraj, Bunna Khalid, Moatasem Rashid.

Adapted from the short story ‘Sleeping at the Foot of the Mountain’ by Sudanese writer Hammour Ziada, director Amjad Abu Alala’s feature debut is a gorgeously-rendered if oblique fable of a young man haunted by a prophecy.

Muzamil lives in a small Sufi village. At a ceremony for his birth, the village holy man conducting the ceremony begins counting. When one of the attendant singers collapses as he reaches twenty the holy man states that this is the age when Muzamil will die.

His devout mother Sakina (Mubarak), who subsequently dresses in black in anticipation of the prophecy being fulfilled, is overprotective, while his father Alnoor (Talal Afifi), unable to deal with the situation leaves to work in Addis Ababa. His mother eventually gives in to local sheikh and allows the seven-year-old Muzamil (Rashid) to attend madrasa, but her son is taunted by the other children who call him ‘son of death’.

Jump to his late teens where Muzamil (Shehata) has a friend in Naima (Khalid) the beautiful local girl who is in love with him. Then, when delivering groceries, Muzamid meets Sulaiman (Elsaraj) an alcohol-imbibing, humorously cynical ex-cinematographer who has returned to the village after his world travels in order to die. While showing Muzamil film clips from the outside world, Sulaiman encourages Muzamail to disregard the prophecy and to live his life.

Sulaiman brings some much-needed energy to a languidly-paced picture broadly populated by the resigned and the passive, even if his championing of cinema feels a pedantic touch in a film that, while touching on religious adherence and predestination, remains tantalisingly elusive. It’s beautifully photographed though, with the crisp luminous outdoors contrasting with the shadowy, claustrophobic interiors.

You Will Die at Twenty is released November 12th

David Willoughby

Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm

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