London Film Festival 2020 – Farewell Amor

The next film that I viewed was Ekwa Msangi’s Farewell Amor. Written and directed by Msangi, Farewell Amor is a 101 minute drama following an Angolan family who are reunited in New York City after seventeen years apart. Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) has been working as a taxi driver in New York and living in a one bedroom flat in Brooklyn. The opening of the film sees his reunion with wife, Esther (Zainab Jah) and daughter, Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) before the film splits each act to follow each character. As suspected, the relationship between husband and wife and father and daughter is strained and in the case of the latter, Walter and Sylvia seem to be complete strangers.

Msangi’s script acts as an outline to showing the immigrant experience in America and the richness of African and African-American culture within New York. With each segment, Msangi paints the picture of these three characters and how dance brings them together. The Angolan culture is transferred over and felt despite the film solely taking place in New York. There is also an undercurrent of religious conflict as Walter’s religious distance is clear as he is uncomfortable at Esther’s insistence of worship. This starts with a simple prayer at meal time but becomes clear at Walter’s dislike of the religious ornaments and going to Church. The distance between Walter and Esther is clear as the former has clearly changed since living in America.

Mwine’s lead performance as Walter is filled with conflict as he faces his new life with Esther and Sylvia while mourning the loss of his relationship with nurse Linda. Walter’s mistakes and unfaithfulness bubble to the surface and provide the tension throughout the film but he isn’t necessarily a villain. Even when drawn to Linda at a club, he thanks her for rejecting him because he knows it’s the wrong thing. Whereas his wife was completely faithful to him all these years, Walter’s unfaithfulness sprouts from the uncertainty that he would see his family again. His relationship with Esther only spanned a short while and took place during the Angolan Civil War in which Esther fell pregnant with Sylvia. Msangi doesn’t want the audience to view Walter as a completely terrible character but one who has faced peculiar circumstance and he eventually learns through the film that he needs to get to know his family all over again.

The second segment follows Sylvia. Jayme Lawson’s performance as the quiet teen is filled with ambition as she strives to use the opportunity she has in America to dance. Discouraged by her mother and encouraged by her father, Sylvia longs to break free of her mother’s strict lifestyle. The first act sees Sylvia giving one word responses but as she practices her dancing, she grows more vocal and confident in herself. Dance is used as the common denominator between her and her father. As her relationship with him seems to grow, Esther becomes more ostracised and cannot handle the American lifestyle. Sylvia doesn’t like her new home initially but grows to it with the help of DJ, a boy from her school who encourages her to join a dance group for a competition. From there she begins to find herself and adjusts to her new life.

The last segment looks at Esther’s experience. Zainab Jah does a fantastic job of balancing the strictly religious Esther and her fear of being in a new country. Up until this segment, her insecurities have been brewing and we see it reach the boiling point as Walter’s affair comes to light. What Jah does so brilliantly in her performance is show us the slow deterioration of Esther’s strength and confidence. Living with Walter was all Esther wanted but the American Dream wasn’t all it lived up to be. They live in a tiny apartment and barely scrape by with Walter working long hours. These little details build up inside Esther until she can’t handle it anymore.

The result of Farewell Amor is an amazingly structured film that shows the contrast between cultures and how the two can be merged together. The family unit is fragmented but by embracing the American culture, they are able to come together to show their love for Angola. It’s a beautiful and subtle film highlighting the power of the arts and expression and one that I think will resonate with a lot of viewers.

Farewell Amor is showing at London Film Festival on 9th October. You can purchase tickets on the BFI website.

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