*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Film: You Will Die at 20

by
12 November 2021

Stephen Brown sees a new film set in Sudan

Muzamil (Mustafa Shehata) and his father, Alnoor (Talal Afifi) in You Will Die at 20

Muzamil (Mustafa Shehata) and his father, Alnoor (Talal Afifi) in You Will Die at 20

THERE is undeniable metaphysical heft to You Will Die at 20 (Cert. 12A). This Sudanese film records the life of Muzamil (Mustafa Shehata) until his 20th birthday.

His mother, Sakina (Islam Mubarak), has her baby blessed during a Sufi ceremony. A whirling dervish ritualistically counts aloud before falling into a trance on reaching the number 20. Villagers interpret this as God’s command that Muzamil must die then. The holy man, unsuccessfully attempting damage-limitation, tells Sakina: “By God’s will there is light in his eyes.” Muzamil is taunted as “The Son of Death”, and his family socially isolate themselves. Sakina wears mourning, unable (despite her faith) ever to rejoice and be glad in each day that the Lord has made.

Amjad Abu Alala’s debut film asks what do we do with the time allotted to us here on earth. Muzamil’s father, Alnoor, cannot cope with his son’s fate and absents himself, toiling in surrounding countries. Sakina notches up the months and years on a wall. For her, Muzamil is already dead. In a pietà-like tableau, she cradles his outstretched body.

Yet the film itself is suffused in light, thanks to Sébastien Goepfert’s cinematography. Sunbeams break into the darkest of rooms; but these country folk are in thrall to superstition. They have equated self-imposed oppression with Sufi’s ascetic mysticism and aim of perfection. Few are prepared to acknowledge (to quote Leonard Cohen’ s Anthem) that “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

A couple of characters do recognise another way. One is Sulaiman (Mahmoud Maysara Elsaraj). He left the area at an early age before returning home a gladder and wiser man. As a cinematographer, his ability to paint with light provides an apt metaphor through which to illuminate Muzamil’s gloomy world. You don’t use your brain to think, he says: only to memorise words. (The youth can recite the whole Qur’an.) There are echoes of Cinema Paradiso (Arts, 31 January 2014), in which the boy Toto comes to love how film questions traditional values.

The other shaft of enlightenment comes through Naima (Bunna Khalid), a young woman overflowing with love. She has found an inner freedom more in keeping with true Sufism than the strictures of institutional religion. Crucially, she warns him that believing that he will die at 20 could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In a sense, this film is a converse of the Sleeping Beauty story. Instead of falling into deep slumber on reaching adulthood, Muzamil — encouraged by others — has never been fully conscious. Unaware of the light in his own eyes, this solitary figure has ignored a famous Sufi saying: “Do not feel lonely: the entire universe is inside you.”

Viewers will ache throughout the piece for a glimpse of resurrection. Given that the film is dedicated to victims of the Sudanese Revolution, it, if a little too obviously, is a rallying cry not just to Muzamil, but the whole nation. Sleepers, wake.

On current release

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

24 May 2022
Disability and Church: Intersectionality
A joint webinar from HeartEdge and Church Times.

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

More events

Job of the Week

Clerical

Priest in Charge (Rector Designate)

London and Home Counties

Our suburban parish on the border between the London Borough of Croydon and the lovely Surrey countryside and with a spacious modern Rectory, is seeking a Priest-in-Charge (Rector Designate) to lead our church as we seek to fulfil our mission to proclaim Jesus, change lives and serve our community.   We are looking for a leader who, with energy and dynamism, who will develop the vision for the church to enable the children and families work to be a priority in order to grow the church both in numbers and spiritual maturity. In addition, the new person will care and tend for the existing ageing congregation many of whom have ¬faithfully served the church for many years.   The person we are looking for should have: strong communication skills, the ability to engage and encourage people across the age ranges and to convey the church’s mission, vision and priorities; a commitment to preach the Word of God in thoughtful and stimulating ways; an energy and dynamism probably more extrovert than introvert; a pastoral heart, showing empathy and good listening skills, the ability, willingness and experience to help us to develop and enjoy a variety of worship styles, including a wider range of musical worship and a deeper corporate prayer life -whilst recognising and valuing our heritage;   For further information and to apply, please click the 'apply for this job' button below.   For an informal conversation with the Archdeacon of Croydon, please contact the Archdeacon’s PA Kathleen.bailey@southwark.anglican.org to arrange a time for a phone conversation.   Closing Date: Sunday 12 June 2022 Parish Visit for shortlisted candidates: Monday 11 July 2022 Interviews: Monday 11 July 2022   Please note we have a policy in Southwark Diocese that to be appointed to an incumbent status post, a priest must have served a title in an Anglican church in the British Isles.   This post is subject to DBS enhanced disclosure

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)