Feature narratives coming out of Ethiopia are exceedingly rare; stories about love and finding one’s place in the world are even more exceptional. Ethiopian American filmmaker Messay Getahun’s beautifully shot “Lambadina (Night Light)” which chronicles a young man’s journey from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Los Angeles, California changes all of that. Westerns have often had the privilege of ignoring war or forgetting altogether just how deeply war and political unrest can devastate and uproot entire families. Told in both Amharic and English, “Lambadina” tells the story of 9-year old Joseph, who is torn away from his father, and reluctantly taken in by an affluent family to live as an errand boy. In a twist that pays reverence to the eternal tale of Romeo & Juliet, Joseph falls in love with the family’s only daughter, Ruth.
It seems that people often forget what those initial whisperings of first love promise. It’s an exhilarating and encompassing feeling that forces everything else to fade away. However, Getahun is thoughtful here in not creating a fairytale. After all, life is often chaotic and troubling, and Joseph and Ruth’s love doesn’t stand a chance in the face of her ambitious parents. Ruth and her parents leave Ethiopia unexpectedly, leaving Joseph reeling and constantly wondering, “What if?” Still, life is not without its winding roads, and everything changes for Joseph and Ruth when by chance many years later, they find themselves crossing paths once again, this time in Los Angeles.
Told in a series of flashbacks that seep into the present day, “Lambadina” is an elegantly paced film about what happens when your past catches up with your present. It’s a film about perseverance, destiny, love and the strength it takes to let go of what could have been.
Messay Getahun chatted with the audience after the film screened at the Montreal International Black Film Festival. Here are the highlights.
Continue reading at Shadow and Act.