Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), from Angola, has been living in New York for 17 years, on his own… sort of. Now, his wife, Esther (Zainab Jah), and their teenaged daughter, Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) — neither of whom, it seems, he has seen in all that time — are joining him in the Big Apple. In his small outer-boroughs apartment. Where they will try to rebuild a family life even though they have become perfect strangers after such a long time apart.
Farewell Amor is the beautiful feature debut of writer-director Ekwa Msangi, in which she finds a delicate balance between drama in the wild sense, as secrets threaten to upend a cautious newfound domestic equilibrium, and drama in the more intimate sense, as husband and wife tentatively rediscover each other; as father and child unexpectedly stumble upon common ground; and as mother and daughter find that their different approaches to life are suddenly more pronounced in this potentially dangerous new place.
Exquisite performances from the beguiling cast — oh, but these characters will linger with you — and Msangi’s elegant touch — she allows us insight into each character’s perspective on this unusual reunion — come together to craft a story that achieves that rare cinematic feat of being wonderfully specific and achingly universal at the same time. This is a story of immigration that will be heartbreakingly familiar to many a diaspora — including my own Irish one — one of ties broken out of economic necessity and difficult to reforge, of parents and children with conflicting experiences of moving to a foreign country in an attempt to build a better life. This is a lovely film, plaintive and poignant but ultimately hopeful.
first viewed during the mostly virtual 64th BFI London Film Festival, in pandemic year 2020
Farewell Amor is the Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ Movie of the Week for December 11th. Read the comments from AWFJ members — including me — on why the film deserves this honor.