For all the right reasons, The long goodbye is a hard movie to watch. The raw, visceral intensity of his final moments is overwhelming. This is proof of the talent of the director Aneil Karia and actor Rice Ahmad, the pair sharing the writing duties, who conspire to develop a powerful and haunting scene; a discreet dystopia whose artifice seems anything but fabricated. It is a nightmarish vision of a future British society that has succumbed to fear, fascism and hatred, imagined through a racially motivated state-led purge of a South Asian community.
Karia recalls that Ahmed was the catalyst for getting the project started. And when they started talking, events in Britain, the United States and elsewhere made the concept increasingly relevant. “There was a feeling of regression. The rampant rise of populism and the disturbing shift to the right were happening. There was this insidious, problematic sense of racism; the kind of rhetoric that was normalized decades ago was normalized again.
Then Brexit happened. “Symbolically, it felt like an important moment, and minorities in Britain saw it acutely. Regardless of the politics around Brexit, it was as if ethnic minority groups, people born and bred in Britain like me and Rice, were suddenly no longer welcome. I think it came from an all-pervading anxiety growing inside of us; a kind of existential terror. It was bubbling beneath the surface as we began to write The long goodbye.”
Karia describes the writing process as “fluid” and “organic”. He says the couple sat down and wondered how they wanted to face those fears. In some ways, it was a cathartic experience, the “process of trying to live through your darkest fears, the ones that haunt you somewhere deep within.” During their discussions, various ways were considered to portray a pervasive racism that disrupts the appearance of a benign suburb. A first idea was to anchor it in the recognizable sight of a far-right demonstration. But Karia and Ahmed knew they could take the concept further.
“We imagined a not-too-distant future where things felt the same way, but something had massively shifted to a new realm, where some kind of poison had taken hold. We just kept pushing each other. “How far can we go without being gratuitous or without losing the authenticity that we were trying to create.” Typically, when we think of dystopia, we think of something remote from reality. There is a distance between us and this future. But the gap between our present and the future [presented in The Long Goodbye] feels seamless.
By design, Karia doesn’t know exactly when that future is. On the contrary, the film is consciously abstract in this respect. “To many minorities, it doesn’t seem fictional at all. It certainly doesn’t seem impossible. We are isolated from it in the UK, but in places around the world – in Myanmar and Bosnia not too long ago – this sort of thing is happening. Ethnic cleansing in our lifetime is a reality.
In the 11-minute short film, Ahmed plays Riz who, together with his family, is in the midst of preparations for a wedding celebration. Then events take a sudden and dramatic turn and the very existence of the family is put to the test by the presence of a group of armed mercenaries.
It appears that Riz and his family are the target of a state-directed slaughter targeting minority groups. The long goodbye takes us on a journey both loving in its intimacy and devastating in its visceral realization of human annihilation. It culminates in a wonderful monologue, written and performed by Ahmed, which breaks the fourth wall in a moment of outrage to express the anguish and anxieties of people on the wrong side of growing intolerance; his words a poignant and driving cry for decency and respect.
“When he showed me that speech, I immediately thought it was incredibly powerful and kind of heartbreaking,” Karia says. “With him, we were moving into this different tonal space; something more poetic and dreamlike, and very different from the raw naturalism we had seen before. It also meant we could find catharsis at the end, coming like after everyone was shot. We wanted to keep that feeling of shock, but we didn’t want to be extremely dark. With Riz’s dialogue, we find the family reinforced, and so the viewers who watch feel it too. It is a provocative and positive response to the violence we have seen.
And Karia benefits from an incredibly moving performance from Ahmed who is perhaps best known for his performances in Chris Morris’ brilliant satire four lions, Darius Marder The sound of metalfor which he was nominated for an Oscar in 2021, and HBO’s eight-episode television drama, The night of. “He is so eloquent,” recalls Karia. “It’s one of the most joyful and also slightly intimidating things about working with him. He’s incredibly articulate and has the ability to distill very complicated, sprawling and messy themes – like geopolitics – into something so personal. , intimate and poetic.
“[The monologue was] just a really nice way to end the movie; powerful and defiant. Anyone who is a minority in a country that is changing – where the political dial is shifting a little to the right – has these anxieties, fears and anger. But you become so adept at swallowing them and moving on with your life.
What Karia finds so effective in Ahmed’s performance is how he creates a sense of anger that has an unexpected and rare restraint. “It took all that rage and fear and anxiety and delivering it in this very controlled, beautiful, crisp and precise way, which I think is pretty cool. And I think ultimately it articulated something that millions of people feel and just can’t say like that. That’s why this ending is so emotional for a lot of people.
Karia, whose first feature film Rise featuring Ben Wishaw won a jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, is a rising star of British independent cinema. He began his career directing several award-winning short films, including To beatand his short film financed by Film4 Job who was nominated for a BAFTA and a BIFA. However, it was Kano problema short film he made with Boy Top actor Kano which caught Ahmed’s attention.
“Riz came to me and wanted to collaborate. He wanted to make a film that was really personal and that came from the heart. I was fortunate in my relatively young career to work with some amazing people. As a director, that’s the most exciting thing, working with actors. Ultimately, this is the essence of what achievement is. Working with the best is a pleasure.
Shooting The long goodbye in two days meant that the actor-director relationship had to be focused. This meant that any uncertainty or anxiety about working with an established artist had little time to surface. “I was already a fan of his work and we had spent about a month getting to know each other before going there but I remember the first time I saw Rice on the Monitor do it live, I I had this feeling of ‘Wow, this guy is something else.’ It was a special feeling. He brought everything I could have wished for.
Yet it’s Karia’s naturalistic setting that allows Ahmed to impress. The director’s handheld camera and use of ambient light give this story a sense of immediacy and familiarity as he takes us to a family home where many people are gathered to prepare for a wedding. Here, different conversations converge into a collection of sounds that stand out as we dig into individual moments of intimacy. “Achieving true authenticity is what I want. That doesn’t mean you can’t be cinematic or even step up sometimes, but it does mean that you buy into that world and feel it more.
“At the end of the day, that’s what you want – people feel that. I find it exciting, personally, when you acknowledge, down to the smallest detail, the world you are looking at. And so wherever he goes, even when he goes to an extreme place, you’ve kind of bought into that realism enough to be taken on that journey properly. And that’s what I strive to do with my work.
Released on the festival circuit during the Covid-19 pandemic, The long goodbye has earned its accolades virtually in the past 12 months. However, it is now a nominee in the Best Short Film category at the 94th Academy Awards. It’s a deserved honor for a film that asks compelling questions about where we are heading as Western society.
Karia is obviously in a jubilant mood but he is just as modest. “The film has grown and what we really appreciate is the power it has over people. It means to me that this film that we put so much energy and feeling into hits the people the way we wanted him to. We wanted him to spark those conversations, to elicit those emotions. To win so many awards and win Oscar recognition on top of that, it’s amazing. I’m so happy.”
The director credits the efforts of the cast and crew for working quickly and working on a limited budget and time. “People put in so much energy and work to make the movie happen; it wasn’t made with a lot of money, it was made in a lo-fi way with little time, and so it really relied on people’s passion, the love of an idea, and the commitment to cinema, to do so.
“The crew, the editor, the post-production team, everyone – they did it for the love really, so to see it paid off with those accolades and the warmth of the reception he received – and especially the love and meaning he seemed to have for the South Asian community in Britain – was very humble and important to us.
Aneil Karia was talking to Top 10 Films editor Dan Stephens.
Watch The Long Goodbye
The Long Goodbye is nominated for Best Short Film at 94and Oscars.