What continues to fascinate me about short films is the poignancy of their content and their ability to evoke suspense, warmth, confusion, anger or thought in less than 30 minutes. Riz Ahmed’s “The Long Goodbye” does all of that in less than 12.
“The Long Goodbye” was first released as a concept album by Ahmed in 2020, as his artistic reaction to the UK’s rise in far-right political groups and increased anti-immigration rhetoric. Ahmed’s own processing of his immigrant background and British identity is imbued in the album, as well. While his music career lay stagnant, Ahmed’s acting career gained critical acclaim following his 2020 Oscar-nominated performance in “The Sound of Metal,” opening up his network to filmmakers, including Aneil Karia. The result of this introduction was the short “The Long Goodbye,” directed by Karia and produced, co-written and starring Ahmed.
The short centers around an immigrant family whose house is buzzing with the adrenaline of a wedding about to be thrown. Sons are hanging up silks on the walls, the girls are getting ready upstairs, some women are finishing their cooking and others are either distracted from helping or pacing with anticipation.
Too soon after, the family is in a different kind of panic, as they see an all-white militia begin to raid immigrant neighbors’ houses, drag the women into vans and men into the street. The family of Ahmed’s character is then taken amidst the screams and violence. He is left on the ground, shot and alone.
Ahmed’s character wraps up the short by breaking the fourth wall, staring at us, rapping and spitting Ahmed’s song “Where You From.”
The film started with an energetic moment of people rushing and touching up themselves and their setting. We hear the yelling, feel the frenzy and can smell the heat brewing from frustration. It’s essentially a sensory overload. Nearly two minutes later, the climax hits with a raid. This interruption is meant to be shocking, nonstop and overwhelming; the family inside the screen are going through persecution, with the viewers now involved. Now that we are positioned as the surveyors of the massacre, we are also the bystanders and are now complicit.
Ahmed and Karia’s film calls into question the role of the viewer. Is it enough to watch the film, understand its message and then applaud its work? Is it enough to even watch the film and feel inspired to write about it to a college audience? While the answer is unknown to me and not answered by the film, I do believe it succeeds in making viewers contemplate its intent and subsequent questions.
The film ends with the verses below. Despite being written more than three years ago by Ahmed, the refrain remains true and might always will. Perhaps the best we can do is listen.
“They ever ask you ‘Where you from?’
Like, ‘Where you really from?’
The question seems simple but the answer’s kinda long
I could tell ’em Wembley but I don’t think that’s what they want
But I don’t wanna tell ’em more ’cause anything I say is wrong
Now everybody everywhere want their country back
If you want me back to where I’m from then bruv I need a map
Or if everyone just gets their shit back then that’s bless for us
You only built a piece of this place bruv, the rest was us.”