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Film Festival Review

Review: Farewell Amor (Dir. Ekwa Msangi, 2020)

LFF 2020

The Civil War in Angola waged from 1975-2002. Despite several attempts at peace agreements and ceasefires, all collapsed amid decades of genocide and ethnic cleansing. With an estimated 800,000 dead and 13,000,000 internally displaced, some 435,000 were able to flee the country altogether and become refugees abroad.

Ekwa Msangi’s affecting Farewell Amor opens with an airport pick-up. Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) is standing in arrivals meeting his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and teenage daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson). The US reunification process has finally brought this family back together after seventeen long years apart. Esther and Sylvia were exiled to Tanzania while Walter has lived in New York driving a cab to make ends meet. Together, they must rebuild their family and attempt to settle, get to know each other again – or in the case of father and daughter for the first time – all in a one bedroom apartment and, for Esther and Sylvia, in a strange city.

Msangi chooses to use a Rashōmon-style of storytelling splitting her film into three sections, depicting each point-of-view. Each chapter is named for each character, giving them narrative agency over their own story, with the first meeting at the airport as the jumping-off point. We are party to their individual journeys as they come to terms with living in a strange land and as a Black person walking the streets in the US – the conversation Walter has with Sylvia about how people react to their skin colour is disheartening but also all too realistic – and provides insight into the types of secrets all families have for their individual and collective survival.

Esther has sought comfort, almost fanatically so, in her religion. Even for a good and loyal man like Walter, seventeen years is an eternity and he had found his in a nurse named Linda who has had to move out, move on and make way for Esther. Sylvia is the one with a future ahead of her and the one this has been the biggest upheaval for. She wants to dance despite her mother’s expectations of medical school, and enters a competition to win $1000 prize. It is Sylvia’s chapter that is the strongest and most impactful, making the absolute best of Osei Essad’s wonderfully evocative score and soundtrack.

Farewell Amor is a stunning first film. It runs with heavy themes amid the soul-searching (and often destroying) difficulties that comes with immigration, emigration and life as a refugee, but with no bombast or self-aggrandising statements. This is a story about honouring the past but placing importance on creating a future. It is redolent in its musicality and vibrancy of colour which is often integral to the culture it depicts yet it takes little to see ourselves in any one of those three gorgeous central performances. Ekwa Masangi has created an urgent and gentle drama – that still packs a punch – about struggle, fight, resilience and love; a sense of belonging and, above all else, family, made all the more poignant by the type of year many have experienced.

Farewell Amor is currently available to stream on MUBI

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