London Film Festival 2020: Farewell Amor review – great central performances and direction create a heartfelt family drama

Farewell Amor review 2020

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Starring Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson, Joie Lee, Nana Mensah. Directed by Ekwa Msangi.


Roger Ebert once said of cinema that what it does is moves you, it shows you people and asks you to relate to them. In that respect, cinema is truly on display in Ekwa Msangi’s drama.

Farewell Amor charts the reuniting of an Angolan family fleeing their wartorn country. Patriarch Walter has been in New York for seventeen years building a life and trying to get his wife and daughter over to him, but when Ester and Sylvia finally do come, they all find adjusting to the new dynamic difficult.

From the off this feels like a timely story to be showing in the United Kingdom, given that daily your uncle is probably on Facebook complaining that refugees are coming over in paddle boats and staying in five-star hotels, when the reality is that they don’t want to be here anymore than most racists do. It’s a dire situation, and one that has to be accepted.

Msangi writes and directs this feature version of her short film, cutting it into three small pieces focussing on each member of the family. We meet actor Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Walter, who works as a cab driver in his small apartment, getting by and having had a relationship with another woman while his wife and daughter were away, we also come to understand his faith, something which mattered deeply back home no longer holds much power over him.

Faith is explored through Zainab Jah’s Ester who is still very much a faithful person in every sense of the word, it’s a film that doesn’t laugh at faith, but asks questions about the motives of the church vs what faith can do to a person. Jah and Mwine are perfect scene partners, you get the feeling of a relationship that has, through no fault of their own, run its course but is trying to be kept alive.

Jayme Lawson as Sylvia is the stand out though, as their daughter she manages to bring a quiet strength to her role, her desire to dance undermined by the more traditional ways of her mother, but quietly supported by her father who has acclimated to the US in the intervening years. Lawson never has to go too far in emotion, as Msangi’s steady direction means that enough is said in the silences.

All of this would be deeply heavy if the film wasn’t also about the joy of life and of community, scenes in which Ester befriends the much more forthright Nzingha (Spike Lee staple and sister Joie Lee), in which Ester tries to get to grips with terms like “sister” and “queen” show the New York Black community as vibrant and welcoming. It’s less pointed than a Spike Lee joint, but has much more hope for generations that people can come together and maybe work things out.

Msangi has a confidence as a director on how to block her scenes, with many of them either incredibly intimate or detached enough to suggest a picture of modern life. The dance scenes aren’t overly edited, really allowing their physicality to take hold. The film is also confident enough in the situation and the central three performances that it doesn’t need to be filled with melodrama and over the top emotional moments, but instead trusts that an audience can empathise with human beings even if their exact experiences do not align with those on screen.

Msangi has crafted a perfect drama film about small scale day-to-day of people that Trump would probably have you believe are criminals, but instead are getting by, struggling with expectations the way everyone does. For that, and for Lawson’s outstanding performance, Msangi has excelled.

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