Farewell Amor – BlackStar Film Festival 2020 – Film Review

Amor is the pet name of the Angolan immigrant husband, Walter, distanced from his wife for 17 years and so Farewell Amor, contrary to initial thoughts, is not simply a tale of amour (love). Nowhere is this distance between the couple so apparent than in a striking opening wide angle scene at JFK airport where that distance, 17 years’ worth, is strikingly obvious as they stand apart. Farewell Amor is a compelling, poetic, slow paced journey through the challenges faced with re-discovering that love and essentially a partner after a long separation. However, it is the power of dance that is shown to make this transformative journey somewhat easier, eventually. Farewell Amor was a Sundance hit which recently featured in the 2020 BlackStar Film Festival and will also be screening at the London Film Festival.

The concept of distance and a gulf pervades Farewell Amor as the married couple do not instantly fall back into each other’s arms which grounds the film in realism. Equally, set within the context of assimilating to a new culture, as Walter’s wife and daughter moved to the US to meet him following exile and visa constraints, the film develops at its own rhythm. Farewell Amor permits the audience to have that breathing space within this emotional tale and the camera work remains at arm’s length thereby perpetuating that constant sense of distance.

Music is a key feature within the film from the opening credits through to the daughter’s attraction to dance. The music pulsates and imbibes a soulful energy to Farewell Amor which is extremely intoxicating. There is music in the taxi, driven by Walter played by Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, and other locations ranging from traditional African music to contemporary music from YouTube videos.

Farewell Amor equally uses music and dance as a vehicle to explore the coming of age narrative as Walter’s teenage daughter struggles to find ways initially to integrate within school and a new culture. With a strict mother warning against the freedoms enjoyed within American society, the prospect of cultural assimilation is not smooth. Farewell Amor, effortlessly conveys the confusion encountered by the mother and daughter in trying to adapt to a new country, culture and the required integration within the new life that Walter built for himself.

The challenges of re-building a life with someone that has effectively become a stranger is sensitively addressed in Farewell Amor. Amongst the confusion and awkwardness for Walter’s wife is also suspicion given that Walter spent 17 years away from the family home, and managed to maintain such a pristine household, allegedly without further assistance. Such scenes are gripping but heart-breaking to watch unfold in equal measure.

The family re-unite in Farewell Amor
The family re-unite in Farewell Amor

Director Ekwa Msinga therefore impresses in this thoughtful feature debut which illustrates the powerful role that communication plays within a variety of relationships. Farewell Amor also touches upon discovering alternative means for expressing those thoughts and the role that dance plays in this regard which is a medium used by Walter as well as his daughter Sylvia. Inspired by a true story, Msinga’s skilful direction produces a charming, thought provoking film.

Farewell Amor is a personal project for Msinga, not least as dance is also her passion, but it was also developed from a short film with a similar title, Farewell Meu Amor. Msinga wishes, within her work, to transform society’s relationship with African cultures which is evident through Farewell Amor with the different styles of dance on display and the variety of African music permeating the film. It is a positive depiction of such cultural references to provide insight into the life of an immigrant which is not focused on a bleak storyline.

The dance movements demonstrated are simply mesmerising to watch and Jayme Lawson is particularly captivating as Sylvia interweaving some traditional African dance moves within an American style dance off. The camera work and Msinga’s vision are delightful to watch in such a pivotal scene that captures that essence, once more, of dance being an effective tool to transcend many challenging and emotional scenarios. The cinematography fragments Lawson’s body performing the dance moves to thrilling effect with the use of quick edits. Whilst Farewell Amor conveys the individual perspective of the mother, father and daughter within its narrative, Msinga expertly unites all of these separate threads together through dance.

Farewell Amor is a tender expression of the external pressures placed upon love as a family and the challenges of lengthy periods spent apart. Its soulful dynamic and musicality will enchant the audience alongside the heartwarming performances of the actors. Farewell Amor is the type of film that tugs at the soul in providing its overarching message that dance is a powerful healer.

Farewell Amor is co-produced by Mubi which has acquired the VOD rights worldwide, except for North America, China and a few other countries. Farewell Amor is currently due to be streamed on Mubi in December and is an extremely good film to watch with the family over the festive period.

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