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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

Categories
Film Festival Review

Review: The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers, 2015)

LFF 2015

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Robert Eggers’ feature debut, The VVitch is a supremely confident and impressive piece of work. It knows exactly what it wants to be (is exactly what this viewer was hoping for) and after five years in the making why expect anything less. The research and production value is astounding given its low budget but then, Eggers is an ex-production and costume designer. There is a specificity and authenticity to his film – which recently won the Sutherland Award (Best First Feature) at the London Film Festival – and this verisimilitude lends itself well to the genre. Although obviously belonging to horror, at the heart of The VVitch is a psychological family drama. 

It is 1630 and Puritan William (Ralph Ineson), his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their children Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) are banished from their settlement seemingly, one would assume, for religious fanaticism. They make a home in New England, on the edge of a wood and begin to tend the land, grow corn, keep goats and even welcome a new addition in the form of baby Samuel. Life can hardly be described as good but they have their God, faith, and each other. That is until the day Thomasin is playing peek-a-boo with her baby brother, moments later he disappears and the home descends into hysteria.

The film evokes resounding performances from children and adults alike. Ineson and Dickie are consistently outstanding but the family dynamic they purportedly created in pre-production is effecting and wholly convincing on-screen; making several scenes gut-wrenching as palpable tension rises and the isolated house – seemingly without sin (hubris, deceit, guilt, etc. do not appear to countナ) – loses its inhabitants one-by-one. It is a folkloric dream with its attention to detail and there are even references to a red cloak and poisoned apple long before they were recorded in any Grimm fairy tale.

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While this is Eggers’ baby, he owes his composer Mark Korvan, his cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and editor Louise Ford a debt. Collectively; they earn your fear. Everything is stark, long shots for outdoor scenes, natural lighting wherever possible; close-ups and sharp editing as the audience intrudes upon the family’s dwelling. As a side note, how nobody has approached Ineson before for a horror film is a mystery with that resonating, cacophonous Northern growl he has.

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The VVitch conjures on all counts with thematic, visual aesthetic, an actual witch (!) and Black Phillip making up for a slight plot. Non-Brits may struggle with the dialect but it is well worth the skirmish. It is gorgeous, grim and, by ‘eck, bewitching.