MUBI UK film review: Farewell Amor
Strength as a feature debut10
Billie Melissa | On 18, Dec 2020
Director: Ekwa Msangi
Cast: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson
Watch Farewell Amor online in the UK: MUBI UK
Farewell Amor is streaming online as part of the 2020 London Film Festival. For more on how the festival works, click here.
Has there ever been a city more loved and cherished on-screen than New York? Ekwa Msangi’s feature-length directorial debut, Farewell Amor, takes place in one corner of Brooklyn where Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) has built a life over 17 years so that his wife and daughter may join him from Angola. Upon their arrival, the years they have spent apart start to manifest in different ways, and they must learn how to resume their bond as a family in unfamiliar territory.
Often, an audience leads to favouring the thought of a single protagonist, but here they are invited into a narrative that gives each character a full and vibrant inner world. Walter, his wife Esther (Zainab Jah), and daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) all have their turn of telling this story, and it begins to paint a beautiful portrait of a family and the complexities of their inner lives.
Walter is the first to share his narrative, driving his family home through streets he has learned like the back of his hand, excited to share every inch of it with them. Their physical lack of space in his one-bedroom apartment is the initial thorn in his plan. After so much distance, they constrict themselves to New York City square-footage with no room to be alone. Msangi’s choreography of the space brings out painstakingly intimate performances, rooted in an alluring realism.
Esther is a God-fearing woman, carrying tradition that has long been distant from Walter’s life. Their romantic flame has dimmed, and Esther is left to uncover secrets her husband has hidden from her on her own initiative. She finds friendship and community around her, in church, and with a neighbour that enables her to find her own understanding of this new city. Zainab Jah’s performance is captivating, her knowledge of the nuances in Esther exhibited so clearly in small momentary glances or the way she carries herself.
Sylvia, initially quiet through the eyes of her parents, is arguably the most vibrant of all, with dreams and ambition grander than she knows how to handle. Having been used to suppressing her desire to dance, she finds friendship with a boy that catches her dancing at a bus stop. Just like her mother and father, she starts to find her footing.
Dance is its own language in Farewell Amor, and it is the most beautiful expression of words that cannot form. Each character has a connection to it and uses it as a form of escapism. Walter is a regular at an underground club that he attends the first week his family returns – words barely pass his lips before he loses himself in the rhythm. Sylvia has the ambition to become a dancer, which she expresses behind the curtain wall of her makeshift bedroom so as to not be seen by her parents. Although Esther may dissuade Sylvia from a life as a dancer, she has her own forgotten connection to the art that she and Walter recollect on an intimate evening. It is the first time the two dare to reminisce on the life they have left behind.
Msangi intricately entwines the three and speaks powerfully to the notion of lives being lived simultaneously to our own. In just 95 minutes, we learn to care about each of them individually and root ourselves in their pursuit of connection. Msangi has crafted something special, and the intimate understanding of the way families sometimes have to fall apart to piece themselves back together is unparalleled. It is an incredibly compelling introduction to Msangi as a feature-film director, leaving only the question of what’s next.
Farewell Amor is now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.