BY CLEMENT YUE
Farewell Amor © Film Constellation Limited
Angola is Africa’s seventh largest country. Angola’s capital is Luanda and the main language spoken is Portuguese. Angola has gone through a bloody civil war spanning 27 years. Its soil has been watered with the blood of more than half a million. This is not a film about Angola or its civil war. Farewell Amor is set in New York City, but it is not a film about America either. You could transplant the characters anywhere in the world and the message would still be the same.
Farewell Amor is a film that breaks cultural barriers over its knee, it is a film about the immigrant experience, it is a film about wordless languages, about identity, pride, the way you carry yourself. It is about dance.
Walter is a taxi driver living in Brooklyn. He immigrated to the States 17 years ago to escape the Angolan Civil War and has been waiting for his family to finally get their visas approved. Instead of a joyful reunion, the family immediately finds themselves at odds with each other, with more than a decade and a half’s worth of baggage yet to be unloaded.
Walter dances the Kizomba, which means “party” in Kimbundu, a language native to Angola. The Kizomba is a dance that starts slow and sensual, a two-step back and forth, but as it picks up pace, an emotive highway to your dance partner must be established. There is a non-verbal missive sent through the movement of the feet, a tacit trust in your partner about where the “relationship” is headed.
Walter discovers his wife, Esther’s burgeoning religious fervour and likewise, she is shocked by his indifference. They have, to their horror, become different people from the person they married. Dance provided the couple a brief respite from their disconnect, and allowed them to reach out to gingerly reconnect and to mourn the passing of time.
Farewell Amor © Film Constellation Limited
Director Ekwa Msangi uses dance to stitch the gaping wound caused by absence. Farewell Amor is made like a triptych, filmed in three different perspectives; father, mother and daughter. It is reminiscent of an ensemble piece, the way the narrative separates and coalesces, breathing and pulsing to the same rhythm, we are reminded that although told in three different ways, we are experiencing the same story. Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 psychological thriller Rashomon does this best as it tempts us with lies and half truths told through the perspectives of different characters jockeying for the proven veracity of their account. Msangi organises no such competition. The disparate cadences of each family member slowly dissolve into one, the triptych style of filming only serves to remind how deep the chasm of 17 years can be. The naturalistic camera lingers on the eyes of the family members; guarded but filled with a longing to be healed and to be a part of.
It is reminiscent of an ensemble piece, the way the narrative separates and coalesces, breathing and pulsing to the same rhythm
No one feels this as intensely as Walter and Esther’s daughter, Sylvia, who faces emotional distance not only from her parents but from her peers. As an African immigrant, her experience is distinctly different from her non-immigrant black schoolmates as Msangi, herself Tanzanian-American, tries to visualise for us. Sylvia struggles to find a community and barely has any friends besides the exuberant DJ, who gets her to sign up for a dance competition. There the usually shy and standoffish Sylvia explodes with life onstage, and Msangi takes the opportunity to introduce us to Congolese and Angolan beats which Sylvia uses to showcase her roots. They also function as a rubber stamp of self-acceptance, with Sylvia feeling no small amount of pride for her identity as an immigrant.
As much as dance is a language, it is also a mirror. It reflects our desires and our unspoken needs, it reaffirms who we are and remembers who we were. Farewell Amor was born out of a frustration with a lack of local programming when Msangi was growing up in Kenya and not being able to see herself in the imported films and TV shows that dominated the screen time. It was conceived in a time of deep uncertainty, with the spectre of racial violence hanging over America. In the midst of police brutality and school shootings, Ekwa Msangi made a film, with some urgency, about dance.
As much as dance is a language, it is also a mirror.
Farewell Amor isn’t just a commentary on the current state of society, but also an examination of the fibres that bind us as a species. It delves deeper into the primordial, into a time before writing, before words, when all we had were our bodies. Dance. It is pure unadulterated expression, it rejuvenates, it celebrates, it heals. But above all, it is a rallying cry for those without a voice. Dance.