Written and Directed by Ekwa Msangi in her feature directorial and writing debut, Farewell Amor (2020) finds Walter (played by Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) finally reunited with his family after 17 years, when he was forced to leave Angola for New York City. We meet the family as Walter is picking up his wife, Esther (Zainab Jah), and daughter, Sylvia (Jayme Lawson), from the airport to bring them home to his one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment. They quickly discover how the years of separation have turned them into absolute strangers. As they attempt to overcome the personal and political hurdles amongst them, as well as navigate and find their way in America, they rely on the muscle memory of dance to find their way back ‘home.’
One of the strongest attributes of this film is it’s story. I personally have no experience with immigration or living apart from my immediate family for the majority of my life, and yet I really empathized with this family and them trying to adjust to their new life together. Each of the three family members has their own ‘chapter’ of the film, all three starting at the airport scene where Walter first reconnects with his wife and daughter. From there, we follow Walter’s perspective as he tries to adjust to his new arragnmemt, while also letting his former lover, Linda (Nana Mensah) go. Then, we see Esther adjust to life in America. Not only does she try to stay faithful to her beliefs (both religious and with marriage), but she also wants to ensure she doesn’t lose her daughter to America the same way she begins to fear she might have lost Walter. Finally, there’s Sylvia, who was too young to even remember her father when he left. Like her mother, she begins to suspect her father isn’t being completelty honest, but she also graples her own troubles. Not only does she leave her friends behind in Africa and have to adjust to American teens, but to her mother’s dismay, Sylvia continues to explore and embrace her passion and talent for dance.
The point of sharing these perspectives demonstrates just how richly developed and crafted these characters and their relationships are. You get the feeling so clearly how each of them are so disconnected from eachother – not just between Walter with Sylvia and Esther, but also between Sylvia and Esther. At no point was I unable to empathize with the three protagonists. Even Walter, who was having an affair with another woman while his wife and daughter were still in Africa, is still sympathetic. When he reconnects with Linda at a nightclub and they dance, or when he keeps Linda’s sheets even after she leaves, you understand why she was important. You understand that being in this foreing country for 17 years must have been lonely, and both actors were so excellently able to convey how much Linda was able to give Walter some form of connection. That scene in particular, and in a later one where Walter takes Sylvia to a doctor, are in a way quite heartbreaking and make you sympathize with Walter because, though he does not tell his wife about Linda, they both choose not to be together when she arrives. Walter in addition to Esther and Sylvia, who have left their life and friends behind in Africa, have all made big sacrifices in order to reconnect with eachother, which makes you really invested in their journeys.
I mentioned this briefly but the acting was incredible – particularly from the main 3 stars but also from Nana Mensah (The King of Staten Island, “13 Reasons Why”) and Joie Lee (Do the Right Thing, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, “She’s Gotta Have It”) as Nzingha in the few scenes they’re in. Zainab Jah (“Homeland,” “Deep State”) as Esther brought an immense amount of vulnerability to the role. You can really see how badly she wants to rekindle her relationship with Walter while also staying true to her religion and the people and life she left behind in Africa. As overbearing as she is at times on Sylvia, you understand why, especially as her suspicions of Walter grow. Jayme Lawson (The Batman) as Sylvia was also excellent, especially considering this is the actress’ first IMDb credit. I think her growing relationship with DJ (Marcus Scribner) was really well developed as well as her complicated relationships with her mother and Walter. While it is clear she is much closer to her mother, it’s a really interesting dynamic because unlike her ultrareligious mom, Sylvia has a passion for dance, something Walter is much more open to her pursuing. The way in which Sylvia starts to get suspicious of Walter and how she reacts to it I thought was also really well handled and clever. Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (“The Chi,” “Heroes,” Queen of Katwe) was also excellent. He really helped showcase his character’s vulnerability and internal conflict, while also showcasing a really genuine and at times fun-loving side to Walter.
The cinematography also had this really raw, handheld feel to it that I think helped really immerse you in the “slice-of-life” style narrative. The close-ups really helped in the more intimate moments, particularly the climax and in the dance scenes. There weren’t too many memorable shots except for the first and last shows of the film which were both done in one take as a single wide shot. The music was also well implemented. I especially like how Sylvia’s mix she dances to are all from Africa. In terms of criticisms, I think while the different perspectives in the narrative were one of it’s strongest attributes, it did also serve as a bit of a detriment as each of the film’s segments start at the same time – the airport – and progress from there. This does lead to the film feeling a bit repetitive especially because you do still get to know these characters, just not as intimately, in the other sections. It does make the film drag a little bit in the middle. Likewise, there’s this great motif about dance that runs throughout the film, as it’s what ultimately brings the family close together. There was this moment in the resolution of the film I thought they would bring that motif back as a send-off to these characters, which they didn’t. That to me was a bit disappointing and felt like a missed opportunity.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Well written and directed, Ekwa Msangi really proves herself to be a talent to look out for. That’s nothing to say for the outstanding acting, as well as some very memorable cinematography, music, and dance sequences. This complex, emotional story is not only extemely resonant for the times we live in, but also one I think will shine a light on a side to immigration and immigrants that other people might have never considered.