Ekwa Msangi’s directorial debut, Farewell Amor is a tender story about an immigrant family facing new beginnings. Essentially a three-hander, the finely fleshed out characters are brought to life by Msangi and the stirring performances of the principal actors.
It’s time for the character’s rediscovery and director Msangi divides the film into three segments to reflect the adjustments each character is trying to make. The first segment focuses on Walter, amazingly brought to life by Ntare Guma Mbaho. He left his wife and daughter in Angola 17 years ago to escape a civil war. Since then, he has been working as a cab driver earning just enough money to pay for his claustrophobic Brooklyn apartment, sending whatever is left to his wife.
The time has finally come when all the immigration red tape has been met and his family can now join him. His wife Esther, played by Zainab Jah, embodies the complexities of her character, and arrives at La Guardia Airport with their daughter Sylvia, played by Jayme Lawson.
There is an awkward greeting between them when they meet again almost as strangers, soon finding themselves caught between two cultures. As the newly arrived immigrants take their first ride through the busy streets, Ekwa Msangi and cinematographer Bruce Francis Cole capture both the grittiness of New York and the wonder reflected in the eyes of the newcomers.
At the family dinner, Esther insists that they say grace first, and Walter begins to get a glimpse of how deeply religious she is, which began when she fled to Tanzania. Confessing that she’s been celibate since they separated, there is an attempt at lovemaking, but Walter is clearly conflicted and turns his back away from her. It becomes also clear that Esther would rather go to church than participate in any spousal intimacies. He tries to accommodate some of her wishes by attending a church service, but clearly is having difficulties and doesn’t participate in singing any hymns. Other forbidden things on her list include drinking wine and dancing, both of which he has been enjoying. Osei Essed’s lively soundtrack is a wonderful blend of African roots music as well as popular American selections. Walter grabs a bag hidden in a closet, and we realize that there is another woman in his life. He subsequently throws the bag in the trash and continues to remain present and distant at the same time. At one point his daughter says, “Poppa do you love us?”
The next segment is from Sylvia’s point of view. On her first day at school, she meets fellow student D.J., nicely portrayed by Marcus Scribner. He grew up in the south without a father, and on discovering that she likes to dance, suggests that she try out for the Step Team. He walks her home, but when Esther sees D.J in their tiny apartment, she forbids Sylvia to have friends or dance, forcing her to kneel and pray for forgiveness. At school, Sylvia injures her hand and Walter takes her to the hospital. While waiting, he shares how he and her mother met at university and what great times they had dancing together, adding “This country is very hard for black people and dancing is the one place I can show myself,” encouraging her to dance. Sylvia doesn’t understand why he didn’t send for them sooner, and he explains that it was difficult due to government red tape.
In the segment devoted to Esther, we see her slowly uncovering Walter’s secret when mail addressed to Linda keeps arriving at the apartment. Though she spends most of her time cleaning, cooking, and talking to her sister back home, she finally confronts her husband about Linda and he replies, “She gave me hope.” We begin to understand that although Walter was in this loving relationship, he is committed to his wife and daughter. In an effort to discuss their dilemma, he takes Esther out to dinner in a beautiful restaurant. She bought a new dress and looks lovely, exuding a softness we haven’t seen before. They discuss their past, and what takes place is surprising; evoking the audience to smile or shed a tear or two.
Farewell Amor could have easily slipped into a soap opera, but the finely honed script and razor-sharp directing, results in an unforgettable family drama, illuminating aspects of the universal human condition and the inherent challenges therein, including sacrifices for the greater good. While all the performances are fully realized, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine’s totally internalized characterization of Walter is spellbinding and we patiently await his next role.
Release Date: December 11, 2020
Where: In Theatres and on Digital and VOD Platforms
Running Time: 101 Minutes