LFF 2020: Farewell Amor – Review

Release Date – N/A, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 41 minutes, Director – Ekwa Msangi

After seventeen years apart an Angolan immigrant (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) is reunited in New York with his wife (Zainab Jah) and daughter (Jayme Lawson) having to not just rebuild relationships but build them from the start

When it comes to awards seasons I hope that Farewell Amor is remembered after it’s hopeful release, specifically for it’s leading performance from Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine. Bringing to life a character which he performs with sadness, loss, regret and so much more all hidden behind his eyes. He plays Walter, an Angolan immigrant living in New York who, after seventeen years apart, is reunited with his wife, Esther (Zainab Jah) and daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson), both brought to life by equally great performances. Walter finds himself having to do more than just rebuild relationships, but in the case of his daughter he has to start a bond from the very start, after having been absent for almost her entire life.

While for Esther the first response is to run to Walter at the airport and greet him with a tight embrace, she’s happy to finally see her husband again and live a life of joy in the land of the free, for Sylvia the case is quite different. She’s already been given no choice about moving away from all her friends to another country where she has to start anew, her mother doesn’t allow her to fulfil her passion of dancing and she has to now live with a total stranger, apparently her father, in a tightly packed apartment – with only one proper bedroom. Her greeting, a silently half-hearted, slightly awkward and uncertain handshake, after having been left to the side as if she isn’t there.

All of this just scratches the surface of the various passions, desires and secrets of each character. Walter has felt so distant over the previous 17 years that he has had to end an affair just as his wife is arriving back to him, something which he hopes will remain a secret. You can fell the emotion of the loose bonds and connections between the three. Walter tries to be a good father, engaging with his daughter, however he knows almost nothing about her and so struggles to talk to her – while his wife seems to be rather strict with her. There’s a feeling during such scenes where the family are attempting to bond, or rather pretending that everything is alright, that you fell the tense nature of the situations. You know that they know this is the case, but sit through the lack of conversation and struggles, as they do.

The way that writer-director Ekwa Msangi tells the story adds to the depth of each character. Allowing one perspective to be shown, then another and another. All while adding extra pieces of detail in each time, progressing the narrative at the end of each one; never looking at the same events. You understand each figure, their personal views and struggles while also focusing on the mindsets of others. When focusing on one character the film still allows you to remember the thoughts and feelings of others and what they are going through, while still ensuring that you know who the central focus is at any specific point. And it all works and comes together telling an emotionally engaging story with brilliantly performed figures who you can’t help but empathise for and with. It’s hard to believe, with everything that this film does, that this is Msangi’s feature debut!

Questions are raised as to where each person feels they belong. Where is home? Who are they, and who do they want to be with? During one key conversation Walter utters the words “After the war the home that I knew was gone”. This is a story about lives shaken up. Tragedies and the bonds they create and destroy. But, most prominently and importantly, a story about people trying to connect with each other, at times something which seems to be an impossible task. This is a film told with emotion, care and honesty. Something that feels genuine and real. Brought to life by caring direction from Ekwa Msangi and the passionately detailed and thoughtful performances that bring the characters in her screenplay to life. And what truly brings it together and proves the effect that the film has had is the warmth and emotion emitted from the final shots after a carefully sculpted final stages.

Mwine, Jah and Lawson are all stunning in the leading roles in Ekwa Msangi’s feature debut. Filled with care, passion and empathy this is a brilliantly told story of separation and connection that you can’t help but be caught up in the emotion of.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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