For the second film I chose to see at the 2020 London Film Festival, I ended up going with something a bit more dramatic, compared to the dark comedy of Honeymood. The description of the film that the BFI put up made it sound pretty interesting so I decided to give this one a chance, and it ended up being a really interesting watch.
The film focuses on the family of Walter, Esther and Sylvia, a family originally from Angola living in New York. Walter moved to New York first and had been there for 17 years prior to Esther and Sylvia arriving. As the film goes on, we see the lingering effects that the 17 year separation has had on the family and the difference in personality and identity that such a long time spent apart can create. Right from the start of the film, there’s a level of awkwardness throughout. There is a clear sense of love that the family has, but the 17 year gap has been severe in how it has defined the relationship. Walter and Esther, despite being husband and wife, are pretty much strangers to each other. Walter has to come to terms with Esther becoming a devout Christian and Esther has to come to terms with Walter’s diet and understanding the other relationships he has had. It shows the painful realities of spending so much time apart and how trying to make this kind of relationship work again it can end up tearing them apart. We also see how difficult it is for Sylvia, from growing up without her dad in her life to suddenly having him there and how much of a shock it is to her and how the whole move is a pretty traumatising experience at first, whilst with Esther, there’s a painful reality that she no longer has a support structure in place that can help her when she needs it. She can make new friends, but these don’t have the same connection to her that her old friends or her church has and we see how vulnerable a state she is in.
The way the film is structured also adds to the power it has. The film is split up into three chapters, each one focusing on a different character and the way they are presented adds new weight to each scene as we go back to it and see it from a different point of view. Even the first scene, of Walter picking up Esther and Sylvia from the airport, has new context added, depending on whose point of view is the focus. This was a well executed idea to add weight to the film, although I think the third act of the film does kind of fall down a bit as it goes more linear and doesn’t have the same power.
The performances throughout the film are great. Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Walter effectively shows the initial joy over being reunited with his family but also his guilt over events in New York prior to his family arriving and the struggle he has in continuing the relationship with his wife when they are completely different people. Zainab Jah is great at showing her own fears and isolation over being in New York, away from her support network, her actions coming from a place of fear for herself and her family and the culture shock of being in America. Jayme Lawson as Sylvia meanwhile does a good job at showing how difficult it is to form a relationship with someone who is effectively a stranger in her life, along with how she is more readily able to adapt to life in New York compared to her mum, along with the culture clash over how she can express her individuality.
Of note in the film as well is the use of music and dancing. There are a few moments throughout the film which focus on music and dancing and the film does a good job at showing how these can be used to express emotions and identity in a way that cannot be done in words and how the removal of this kind of structure and release from someone’s life can end up doing a lot of harm to them.
Overall, I found Farewell Amor to be an effective film about the struggles of the modern immigration experience and how difficult it is to reconnect when you spend so many years apart. This works in showing the pain and difficulties that the family experience and the differing sense of isolation felt as they struggle to come to terms with their situation and the ability to express themselves, and it is on the whole an engaging watch.
My Rating: 4/5