Farewell Amor


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Farewell Amor
"Jah is superb." | Photo: Bruce Francis Cole

How many relationships could survive a 17 year separation? The huge amounts of time that families often have to wait to be reunited after one member wins asylum in another country do a lot of damage but are rarely discussed - the public focus is always on the notion that everything will be alright once they're together again. Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) and his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) have become completely different people by the time she is able to leave Angola and join him in the US. Their daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) doesn't remember her father at all.

The film opens with Walter's break-up with the woman he has been living with - a woman whose own story we learn very little about. We know that she loves him and doesn't understand, and that he loves her but feels his duty lies with the vows he made all those years ago. He doesn't explain the situation when Esther arrives. Both feel that they ought to pick up, somehow, just where they left off, but don't know how.

For Sylvia, the US seems tremendously exciting and glamorous, but she also misses her friends, keeping touch online and trying to keep up with what's happening there. Things start to look up when she meets a boy who tells her about a local dance competition. She loves to dance and is thrilled by the chance to take part, training hard - but doing so in secret. Her mother is deeply religious, having found emotional support through her religious community, and disapproves of any such activity. Inevitably, this adds to the strife in the small, claustrophobic apartment where the only privacy is afforded by hastily strung-up curtains.

There some obvious paths for the story to take here and it doesn't avoid them. First time feature director Ekwa Msangi is more interested in what she can observe along the way. The film is driven by its characters, each of whom takes centre stage for a while, and it is by recognising the differences in their experiences that they are gradually able to come together. Although for much of the running time Esther seems like an antagonist, we are slowly made privy to her pain, to her years of hope against the odds and her deep belief that some kind of resolution must be possible. Though she and Walter now barely know each other, there is a tenderness between them. Jah is superb in this complicated role and really elevates the film.

Msangi's script touches on the trauma that still lingers from the Angolan Civil War and also reflects on the US as a nation of immigrants made possible through a myriad personal stories of integration. What comes naturally to Sylvia as a young person who is ready to change her lifestyle anyway is much more difficult for Esther, but there is tenderness, too, in the way that neighbours reach out to her and gently help her to find her feet. For a film that begins with a catalogue of loss, Farewell Amor is surprisingly full of warmth and hope.

A powerful immigrant story with a deep affection for its characters, this is a beautifully intimate piece of filmmaking.

Reviewed on: 22 Feb 2021
Share this with others on...
Farewell Amor packshot
Reunited after a 17-year separation, Walter, an Angolan immigrant, is joined in the US by his wife and teenage daughter. Now absolute strangers sharing a one-bedroom apartment, they discover a shared love of dance that may help overcome the emotional distance between them.

Director: Ekwa Msangi

Writer: Ekwa Msangi

Starring: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson, Joie Lee, Marcus Scribner, Nana Mensah

Year: 2020

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US

Search database: