London Film Festival 2020: Farewell Amor | Review

Rosamund Kelby


Public screenings
Online on BFI Player from 9th October 2020 8.45pm until 12th October 2020 8.45pm

“Welcome Home”, exclaims the banner that hangs from the ceiling of an apartment in New York, a sincere attempt to celebrate the reunion of a family that has been continents apart for 17 years. And yet, as the weeks wear on and the trio are forced to address the chasm formed in their separation, still the banner lingers, a wry reminder that a home is something that has to be built together.

Having departed a war-torn Angola nearly two decades ago, Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) has made a life for himself in Brooklyn, a life he now hopes to share with wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson). However, as they are soon to realise, such an adjustment takes compromise and sacrifice. While Walter must acclimatise to fatherhood and Esther’s devout Christianity, she in turn must come to terms with the wayward path her husband has taken in her absence. Sylvia, meanwhile, struggles to express her true self within a new school and a new culture.

Ekwa Msangi’s Farewell Amor is a delicate and deftly handled tale of displacement that practices what it preaches. Triangular in nature, the film is split into three stories, equally weighted, interconnected yet distinct. The democratic nature of the narrative is a powerful ode to the balance the family are trying to attain – however, it hinges on the quality of its central performances. Mwine and Jah are luminous as they play at marriage, fumbling for the familiarity that will turn them from strangers back into spouses. Meanwhile, Lawson’s troubled teen flits convincingly between tiptoeing around her parents and dancing with dynamism to the beat of her own drum.

Music plays an important part in the plot as a counterpoint to religious doctrine: fluid, seemingly unchoreographed sequences show our characters at their most liberated, while the supposedly joyful singing of the congregation feels empty and cold. Msangi builds palpable tension during prayers; comfort is not found in connecting with God but connecting with oneself. The cinematography, likewise, favours the earthly. In every shot, there is beauty not in the divine but in the corporeal, the everyday. Vivid clothes and makeup are outshone only by the radiance of the wearers, exquisite lighting lifting features to ethereal heights.

Farewell Amor may not tread a lot of new thematic ground, but this exploration of immigration and identity speaks louder than most because every utterance is amplified, every voice given space to find its flow. By the end of the film, our allegiance lies not with one individual character but with the family as one complicated, equilateral whole. 

Rosamund Kelby

Farewell Amor does not have a UK release date yet.

Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2020 coverage here

For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.

Watch the trailer for Farewell Amor here: