LFF REVIEW: ‘Farewell Amor’ (2020) is an Impressive Trichotomous Negotiation of Family Values

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“a beautiful character study of the innate necessity and craving for belonging”

Farewell Amor features many goodbyes, some more painful than others, but each farewell marks a new beginning. Writer-director Ekwa Msangi arrives with a moving portrait of familial reacquaintance for her feature directorial debut. The film tells a classical story of a family divided through a modern lens, a celebration of American immigrant stories.

Offering a glimpse into the separate lives of this Angolan family, Farewell Amor centres on how nurturing can overcome disconnect. Having moved to the United States seventeen years ago, Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) re-introduces himself to his wife and daughter who walk into the grey expanse of JFK to start a brand new chapter. They begin piecing their lives back together in an apartment in Brooklyn. Although the gap of distance between them has closed, the family remain emotionally distant. 

The film divides itself into three acts, each segment taking the individual perspective of a family member experiencing this reunion. Father, mother and daughter: Walter, Esther (Zainab Jah) and Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) make up the three-dimensional frames of reference of a family reuniting. Each character is granted their own retelling of their reunion from their personal angle. First is Walter. He greets his wife and daughter with a bunch of flowers and a hesitant hug. Welcoming them into his apartment, and their new home, with a homemade banner and a home-cooked meal. Amused by her husband’s cooking, Esther asks who taught Walter this skill. He brushes off the question and tries to forget how he rushed Linda (Nana Mensah) out of his apartment earlier. 

On their first night together, Esther lies exposed on their bed. Physical contact is a foreign language they try to reacquaint themselves with. Vulnerable and open, she assures Walter she has not been with anyone since he left. He cannot promise her the same thing.

The next perspective is Sylvia’s. Upon meeting her father, she is overwhelmed with a surge of emotions. Finding herself between the encouragement from her father’s love and the expectation of her mother’s care. This cross-section of opinion brings Sylvia closer to her father, drawn by their shared love of dance but condemned by ‘Thou-Shalt-Not-Dance Esther.’ Navigating the streets of New York City as ‘new kid on the block’, Sylvia embarks on everything her mother disapproves of: meeting a boy, wearing trendy clothes and entering dance competitions. She is a self-assured young woman ready to take her life into her hands but apprehension still lingers, her stare is perceptive. She notices the awkwardness between her father and the nurse, Linda, who treats her injured arm. As well as the matching necklaces they both wear. So every-time her necklace knocks against her chest when she dances is an ever present reminder of her father’s infidelity.

Walter and Sylvia sit together in the doctor's waiting room. Walter looks over at his daughter with the gaze of a concerned father.
Walter and Sylvia. Image courtesy of IMDb.

Finally, we see the rebuilding of the family unit through Esther’s eyes. She is left alone as Sylvia heads to school and Walter goes to work. Dusting and polishing, the post with the first hints that Walter has not been faithful: a letter for Linda with Walter’s address. Deeply invested in religion, Esther is concerned about her husband and daughter. Praying and donating to her church in order for them to live in harmony. Struggling to adapt to this new life, next-door neighbour Nzingha (Joie Lee) takes Esther under her wing. Even with a small role, Lee shines. Introducing an outside-the-family perspective that 

Msangi’s debut features fantastic performances that capture the uncomfortable closeness that is tangibly awkward, stumbling over each other as they grasp at what unites them. Handling these interwoven, singular narratives, Msangi builds a stunningly personal film that excels in the interweaving perspectives of family. Highlighting and celebrating difference. Such is visualised with distinct lighting; while Walter is lit by warm-toned cream light, Sylvia is bathed in a fluorescent blue. Although there is opposition, they can exist simultaneously.

Farewell Amor is about adjustment and relishing that instability, thriving in the uncomfortableness while this divided family finds the substance that will bring them all back together. The film is a beautiful character study of the innate necessity and craving for belonging; how strangers can be family once more and the time between is just as precious.

Dir: Ekwa Msangi

Prod: Ekwa Msangi, Huriyyah Muhammad, Josh Penn, Bobby Allen, Sam Bisbee, Joe Plummer

Cast: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson

Release Date: December 11th 2020

Header Image courtesy of IMDb